Welcome to my Blog! The purpose of this blog is to provide information and support for anyone interested in mental health and wellness, as well as counseling. Occasionally I offer input for helping professionals on the subject of staying healthy while helping people in distress. NOTE: Be sure to click on the orange button to subscribe to this Blog/RSS feed.
In the past couple of years, we’ve had quite a few difficult and at times disturbing news developments.
Intensifying Political division
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
Disturbing Findings on Global Warming/Climate Change
In learning from and observing others who deal relatively well in coping with events in this world, here are some good ways to deal with the anxiety that comes from the news of the world
1. Keep it in perspective. If you’re like most people, you probably think about the worst-case scenarios. In some ways, this is a good thing, because it’s a good idea to be prepared in case the really bad stuff happens. However, I’d encourage you not to dwell on it, especially if it’s not something you cannot control. Instead, stay informed about the situation, and consider what the most likely scenario(s) are, instead of simply dwelling on the worst thing possible.
2. Talk with people whom you respect as level-headed and reality-based about things. Really listen to what their perspective is on an issue that concerns you.
3. DO NOT listen to or watch news in the early AM or late PM. These times of the day are what I call tone-setters, in that what we do during these two periods of time set the tone for our day and our night, respectively. I don’t care if you have to turn your phone off, or disable those pesky news alerts. Do what you need to in order to make this happen. It’s very important.
4. Understand the focus of the mainstream media. I was watching a video featuring Dr. Brene Brown, prominent research professor, lecturer, author, and podcast host. In it, Dr. Brown was talking about the news, and the messages and themes that are put out by most news media sources. The core point she made in this video was that most news in the mainstream media focuses on two questions:
What should I be afraid of?
Who should we blame for this?
I strongly encourage you to take a look at your favorite news sources and ask yourself just how many of the stories focus on these two questions. Unless your news source is highly atypical, I’m betting you’ll find that most of the headlines and much of the content focuses on these two themes.
By no means I am encouraging you to deny reality. Stay informed, but stay balanced in your day to day mental and emotional state of being. Given the deliberate polarization and sensationalism of most of today’s news sources, this is a task that requires some dedication. All the best to you in this endeavor!
On December 26, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Archbishop of the Anglican Church of South Africa, died at the age of 90 years old. He was, among other things
A highly influential civil rights leader
One of the most successful anti-apartheid activists
Director of the historic Truth & Reconciliation Committee in South Africa from 1996-98. This committee investigated past human rights abuses committed by both pro- and anti-apartheid groups, and helped South Africa come to resolution as a nation post-apartheid, without falling into a deadly civil war (something many people feared was inevitable)
Nobel Peace Prize winner, 1984
The purpose of this blog is to honor and celebrate Tutu’s life. In addition, it’s a good opportunity to highlight what an incredibly wise human being he was, including his wisdom on forgiveness, human relations, mental health, and promoting peace in the world.
The Book of Forgiving (2014) is the best book on forgiveness I have ever read, period. He describes a four-fold path of forgiveness that is very insightful, challenging, and helpful. In addition to reading it and using it in my own life, I have recommended it to many people, and have received consistently positive feedback about its utility.
Another of his books, the Book of Joy (2016), is a treasure. It was written by Douglas Abrams and essentially describes the friendship between Tutu and the Dalai Lama, as well as the wisdom they shared at a conference they facilitated together. The Eight Pillars of Joy, which they discuss in the last section of this book, are a wonderful summary of the qualities of the mind and heart that humans need in order to find true joy in a world with so much suffering. Like the Book of Forgiving, I’ve utilized it myself and recommended it to many others, with great feedback about its utility.
Finally, I’d like to share some inspiring quotes and thoughts from Tutu. I invite you to read these and consider the wisdom inherent in these concepts and quotes. See the next blog entry for these.
The source for these quotes is: https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/5943.Desmond_Tutu
(Describing the Book of Joy) “What the Dalai Lama and I are offering,” the Archbishop added, “is a way of handling your worries: thinking about others. You can think about others who are in a similar situation or perhaps even in a worse situation, but who have survived, even thrived. It does help quite a lot to see yourself as part of a greater whole.” Once again, the path of joy was connection and the path of sorrow was separation. When we see others as separate, they become a threat. When we see others as part of us, as connected, as interdependent, then there is no challenge we cannot face—together.”
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
“Forgiveness does not relieve someone of responsibility for what they have done. Forgiveness does not erase accountability. It is not about turning a blind eye or even turning the other cheek. It is not about letting someone off the hook or saying it is okay to do something monstrous. Forgiveness is simply about understanding that every one of us is both inherently good and inherently flawed. Within every hopeless situation and every seemingly hopeless person lies the possibility of transformation.”
“We are made for loving. If we don’t love, we will be like plants without water.”
“It is through weakness and vulnerability that most of us learn empathy and compassion and discover our soul.”
“Our maturity will be judged by how well we are able to agree to disagree and yet continue to love one another, to care for one another, and cherish one another and seek the greater good of the other.”
Book citation for the Book of Joy: (Dalai Lama, & Tutu, D. (2016). The book of joy. (D. Abrams, Ed.). Avery, New York.
In my last blog, I discussed the Eight Pillars of Joy from The Book of Joy, and focused on four pillars in highlighting ways to maintain realistic hopefulness during a difficult time in our history: Perspective, Humility, Humor, and Acceptance. Today, I’m going to ponder the other four pillars: Forgiveness, Gratitude, Compassion, and Generosity.
Forgiveness: As with some of the pillars mentioned in the last blog, this concept is often seen as weakness. While I never said this out loud, for years I lived as if this were the case. Wow, did I have a lot to learn! If you are someone who feels that the act of forgiving (yourself or someone else) is a weakness, I’m here to tell you that NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH. As the Dalai Lama says on p. 233, “Forgiveness does not mean we forget. You should remember the negative thing, but because there is a possibility to develop hatred, we mustn’t allow ourselves to be led in that direction--we choose forgiveness”. The author (Douglas Abrams) goes on to explain (also p. 233) that “not….giving in to the negative emotions, does not mean you do not respond to the acts or you allow yourself to be harmed again”.
Gratitude: Few things in life are as powerful and under-practiced as gratitude. The power of a sincere act or practice of gratitude is one of the most mentally healthy things someone can do. As this wonderful book describes in the gratitude chapter (p.246), “when you are grateful, you act out of a sense of enough and not out of a sense of scarcity, and you are willing to share. If you are grateful, you are enjoying the differences between people….a grateful world is a joyful world….grateful people are joyful people”. Wow, does our world need more of this right now!!
Compassion: Again, sometimes this one is equated with weakness. And yet, the most joyful people I’ve met in my life are very compassionate people. “Too much self-centered thinking is the source of suffering. A compassionate concern for others’ well-being is the source of happiness”, says the Dalai Lama (p. 251).
Generosity: There is nothing like extending our time and resources to help another in order to help us step outside of ourselves and our own worries. I am speaking from direct experience here. As I have established sincere and meaningful gratitude rituals and reflection in my life, I have noticed an enhancement of the quality and perspective of my life. Furthermore, the experience of clients and others in my life very much coincides with this.
I sincerely hope that reflecting on these pillars have been helpful for you. I have found that the application of these eight pillars has helped me greatly. I invite you to consider this: which one of these might you benefit from working on?
Over the years, I’ve noticed that the phrase ‘these are tough times’ is so overused. However, the time period from March 2020 until now has been a particularly difficult time for many of us, for many reasons. I’m seeing many clients and others express anxiety about many societal and global issues.
As I pondered about what would hit home with people during this challenging time, I remembered how often I talk with clients, other professionals, and friends about one particular book: The Book of Joy (citation below).
The two individuals highlighted in this book are the Dalai Lama of Tibet and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. They seek to address a very important question that humanity has been pondering for a long time: How do we live our lives joyfully in a world that has so much pain and suffering?
There is a particular section of the book entitled “The Eight Pillars of Joy”. I’ll examine four pillars today, and four in my next blog.
1. Perspective: The Dalai Lama says that “for every event in life, there are many different angels. When you look at the same event from a wider perspective, your sense of worry and anxiety reduces, and you have greater joy”. He goes on to say “we must look at any given situation…..from the front and back and sides….this allows us to take a more complete and holistic view of reality, and if we do, our response will be more constructive”.
2. Humility: this trait is often seen in our society as weakness. Desmond Tutu says “sometimes we confuse humility with timidity. Humility is the recognition that your gifts are from God...humility allows us to celebrate the gifts of others, but it does not mean you have to deny your own gifts”.
3. Humor: An essential trait for happiness and harmonious human relations! I don’t think I’ve known many--if any--happy people who don’t have at least some sense of humor. Moreover, the ability to laugh at ourselves and our own flaws is also quite important.
4. Acceptance: This means accepting our current circumstances while looking to improve them in any way that we can. As Tutu and the Dalai Lama explain in the acceptance chapter, it does NOT mean that we accept things and say that we just have to be happy with things exactly as they are. Acceptance is a balance between accepting current circumstances while striving to do what we can to improve them, and not dwell on what we cannot control. Therapeutically, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is a great model that emphasizes this balance.
Finally, joy and suffering don’t need to be mutually exclusive. If you look for them, you’ll see some people who are able to find joy amidst very trying circumstances.
In my next blog, I’ll take a look at the other four pillars of joy. They are: Forgiveness, Gratitude, Compassion, and Generosity.
Book citation: (Dalai Lama, & Tutu, D. (2016). The book of joy. (D. Abrams, Ed.). Avery, New York.
As I continue to reflect on the theme of our mortality and the gift of life, I find myself coming across many passages (in books and online) about the importance of living in the present moment.
After all, it’s the only moment we have to live. The future isn’t here yet, and the past is over. While we can prepare for the future, and learn from the past, we can only actually live in the present. Think about this for a moment.
How many of us spend our time and energy worrying about the future or lamenting or reminiscing about the past? To some degree, this is normal. However, when it starts to dominate our thinking and our consciousness, we certainly are not spending our lives living in the present, where we can actually DO something about our situation. NOTE: If you are a survivor of trauma, you may find yourself unable to embrace the present, due to powerful memories and images that pop up during the day and/or in your sleep. If this is the case for you, please consider seeking counseling to work through this.
I’ve noticed that people who seem to be the happiest and most fulfilled in their lives are the ones who are most fully living in and appreciating the present moment. While these folks certainly plan for the future, and think about (and learn from) the past, they LIVE in the present day. What better way to honor the notion that our time on this planet is limited and that we all eventually die?
Perhaps one of the best ways to come to grips with our own death and mortality is by living the way we feel we should live--according to our own values, in the present moment. No one wants to live with regret. Truly living according to our core values tends to minimize the deep regret that plagues so many of us who behave in ways that conflict with our core beliefs.
As discussed earlier, the present moment is the only moment we really have to live in. By staying focused on our values and integrity in the present, we can come to terms with our mortality and what we believe lies beyond this life in a much more peaceful manner.
It’s interesting how many people don’t like to acknowledge the reality of death in their daily lives. And yet, death is all around us. So is loss--we regularly endure little losses and big losses. From my perspective, what is important is that the reality of death and loss can help us fully appreciate the preciousness of life.
In this blog, I want to share some reflections on the relationship between death, loss, and life.
The basic message is this: we know our days are limited, in this life. This knowledge can help us appreciate each day, each moment in our lives, and motivate us to make the most of living each moment, each day.
In particular, I invite you to consider the impact we have (or could have, if we put our minds to it) on the following:
Our loved ones
Those who depend on us
Also, consider the power that comes with putting love into living action. How can you put your love for others into action today?
I find that it’s very helpful to start and end the day focusing on things that will put us in a good headspace. Even spending just 2-3 minutes doing this at each end of the day can set a tone and focus for our day or our nightly rest.
Some of the most helpful things we can focus on, from my perspective, are
What I am most grateful/thankful for?
How can I make the most of today? (or, if asking at night-time, ask yourself about tomorrow)
And, to repeat my earlier question: How can I put my love for others into living action today?
As I close out this blog, I leave you with some thoughts from various individuals who have pondered the connection between life and death
"How can the dead be truly dead when they still live in the souls of those who are left behind?" Carson McCullers, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
“If you have a warm and caring heart, you're loved ones will ensure you never depart. For long after you've turned that final page you'll still be right there on center stage.”― Stanley Victor Paskavich
“The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered...We know that. And yes, there are certainly times when we aren't able to muster as much strength and patience as we would like. It's called being human. But I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious. And for that I am grateful.”― Elizabeth Edwards
This blog is the first in a series of short blogs that will focus on the concept of death as an existential reality and reckoning, with the intention of calling to mind the importance and preciousness of every day of life.
Like any mental health professional, I have various clinical models that I lean on. One of my favorites is the existential model. When I think about our lives from an existential standpoint, one of the first things that comes to mind is the concept of our mortality. While this isn’t something that most people bring up directly as being a reason they are seeking counseling, sooner or later the issue comes up in one way or another. People will say things like, “I want to make sure I do X in my life”, or “I don’t want to turn out like X”, or “doing X is on my bucket list”.
This brings me to the notion of legacy. When I talk about legacy, I don’t mean the sense of being famous. I am referring to this question: what do you want people to remember about you after you’re gone?
I had a therapist that many years ago suggested I write my own obituary. This really got me thinking….what would I have to write about if I died today? Also, what would I want to be able to write about?
These questions are certainly something that changes one’s perspective, and I believe consideration of this from time to time to be a very good thing for us.
I’ll have more on this soon. For now, consider the legacy you’d like to have and what you feel is important to do while you’re alive on this planet.
How many times have you heard it, ‘take a few deep breaths and you’ll feel better’. Most of us understand that it’s true; if we stop and take a few deep breaths, our minds will slow down a little--this is usually a good thing! We’ll then be able to collect ourselves a bit, and be in a better headspace from which to act going forward.
What many people don’t realize--or simply forget--is that a practice of deep breathing, done consistently over time, can help us to be more grounded, mindful, and resourceful in our daily lives. This is especially true when it’s combined with other effective techniques, such as meditation, yoga, or even simple tensing/relaxing exercises.
This process absolutely works, but in my experience most people won’t stick with it, because the most profound results don’t happen right away. However, when people DO stick with it, sooner or later they notice signs that indicate that they’ve turned the corner.
This is the wonderful point at which people truly ‘get it’; that is to say, they have the lived experience of the benefit of conditioning and the mind and body working together to help them better regulate their emotions and have more presence of mind in daily life. When this occurs, I am so happy as a practitioner, because I no longer have to sell them on the virtue of a relaxation/grounding routine, they see it for themselves, and that is such a powerful moment.
It’s all about conditioning: think about an athlete who is getting into shape. At first it’s a bit awkward, and you notice you’re not used to doing certain types of breathing or mental activity. But with persistence you do get used to it, and you gain momentum.
Then comes a point of plateau, where fatigue, doubts, and excuses come into play. However, with persistence, consistency, and through noticing what works best for you, you will almost certainly experience an increasing level of effectiveness in your approach and routine over time.
The payoff to your physical and mental health will be worth the investment, especially if you continue be observant to which types of relaxation, breathing, and/or meditation work best for you on an ongoing basis.
Finally, what constitutes a ‘relaxation routine’? Here are a few examples. I hope it gives you an idea of what’s possible, and how simple an effective routine can be.
1. 3-5 minutes of deep breathing and tensing/relaxing muscles, at least once (preferably twice) a day. There are plenty of good examples on Youtube, and on websites such as the one I reference in the next bullet. This isn’t much time, but doing short relaxation or breathing exercises can help you get acclimated to the idea without feeling you have to spend a lot of time on it
2. Doing 10-15 minutes of meditation daily. There are many types out there, and tastes are very individual with this. Some very good guided meditations are found on: https://www.tenpercent.com/guided-meditations.
3. Yoga is very beneficial, and although it requires some investment of time and energy, it’s a wonderful and time-tested practice for developing physical conditioning, mindfulness, and inner calm
Any routine activity that helps you get a bit more calm and mindful is great, including activities that help us to slow down a little. Just make sure that you don’t make the routine so time-consuming that is becomes daunting and feels like a chore; in which case, you likely won’t do it consistently.
So give it a shot--engaging in a relaxation routine on a regular basis has so many benefits, and the results over time are usually quite beneficial for our mental and physical health. I have my own experience and that of many clients to vouch for this!
These are upsetting times. The pandemic, the current volatile socio-political situation, and intense fires raging throughout Oregon and the west. It seems fear, loss, and uncertainty are everywhere. In the midst of this, it is essential that people have hope that things can get better in some way--in their personal lives and on a societal level. In this blog, I talk about hope and why it is so important--and so difficult for many of us to have.
Hope. For this blog, I’ll define hope as the willingness to accept that there is the possibility of something good or better on the horizon. My question is, why is hope so hard? What happens when our hopes are dashed? Well, I can speak from experience that having my hopes for something be dashed is one of the hardest emotional experiences in my life.
How do people cope with this type of experience? Sadly, many people decide that having hope is too vulnerable, that it’s easier and safer to simply expect the worst on a perpetual basis. However, others embrace gratitude for the things they have, and are able to realize that the present adversity is occurring at a point in time in history; in other words, that it won’t last forever. They fully acknowledge the difficulty in these times, but are able to have hope (and in many cases, conviction) that things will change and get better. Furthermore, they will put their energy into the things that they can control--I think of the Serenity Prayer in this context.
What is the price of giving up on hope? It’s simple, the price of giving up on hope is hopelessness and cynicism. Make no mistake: the long-term cost of this mindset is devastating, and leads to depression, fatalism, and despair. I work with my clients on this issue on a regular basis, and for me it’s a stern, ongoing reminder of the need to watch cynical tendencies in myself.
Speaking of cynicism, I will define it as an unwillingness to consider that there is hope in a given situation. Unless we are aware of the long-term psychological damage of this mindset, this is a very easy thing to embrace. Emotionally, it’s safer to simply give up hope and thus escape from any sense of vulnerability of being disappointed.
What to do? Let’s turn to a related concept, one that Brene Brown refers to as “Foreboding Joy” (see my Dec 6, 2019 blog entry on this subject). Dr. Brown articulates this very well in a six-minute YouTube video with Oprah entitled “Dr. Brene Brown on Joy: It’s Terrifying”. In this video she says “When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding”.
Foreboding Joy is the notion that joy is one of the scariest emotions we can experience. When I first heard Dr. Brown make that statement, it blew my mind. Think about that for a second. (Note: this blog continues below)
In my experience, most people, when experiencing and thinking about life as going well, will have an immediate sense of foreboding or doom, a sense that something bad is going to happen to ‘even things out’. Think of the expression ‘knock on wood’. That’s Foreboding Joy if there ever was any!!
The thing is, we can spend our entire lives waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’ve worked with many people with this trait and seen it in myself. And what good does it do us? Does it save us from life’s bad experiences? Of course not, but it DOES rob us of life’s joy.
Furthermore, Dr. Brown’s research shows that Foreboding Joy really is a thing for most people. She also notes--and I agree--that the best thing to do when feeling a sense of Foreboding Joy is to….wait for it….lean into gratitude in those moments where we experience the foreboding.
Gratitude. It’s one of the eight pillars of joy as defined by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu in “The Book of Joy” (2016). They state that this type of gratitude isn’t simply something we snap our fingers and do, it involves commitment and an ongoing practice of gratitude.
After reflecting on this a bit, and then considering what Dr. Brown, Desmond Tutu, and the Dalai Lama have said about all this, I realized something: I’ve noticed that people who don’t tend to struggle with Foreboding Joy have a strong practice of gratitude in their lives. This was quite a realization for me, and I invite you to consider it as well.
One of my favorite parts of The Book of Joy is this wisdom from the chapter on gratitude (p. 247)
Scientists have long known that our brains have evolved with a negative bias. It was no doubt advantageous for our survival to focus on what was wrong or dangerous. Gratitude cuts across this default mode of the mind. It allows us to see what is good and right and not just what is bad and wrong.
For me, this passage illustrates that practicing gratitude gives us a more balanced perspective. This concept becomes even more powerful in light of the tremendous amount of adversity that Tutu and the Dalai Lama have endured. Now in their 80’s, both with significant health issues, they embrace life and practice gratitude as a core part of their health and wellness.
During this time of forest fires, COVID, political volatility, etc., it’s more important than ever to understand these concepts. If the notion of being joyful about something in your life feels very unsettling to you, it’s very likely that you’ve got some work to do in coming to terms with your own vulnerability. Understand that a) you’re in good company and b) working on this issue is well worth the time and effort!
NOTE: Gene Obersinner LCSW provides individual and couples counseling on a sliding scale. For more information feel free to e-mail: email@example.com
Our society has long perpetuated a myth that, in order to come to mental health counseling, a person must be ‘crazy’. Thankfully, much (though not all) of the stigma about coming to see a counselor has gone away. However, our illness-based healthcare system has created a need for participants in therapy to be diagnosed with a ‘mental illness’ of some sort, in order to receive insurance coverage for mental health treatment.
While there is no doubt that the DSM-5 (the diagnostic ‘bible’ for mental health professionals that is published by the American Psychiatric Association) or something like it must exist in order for there to be a common language among people and especially professionals, the need for someone to have a psychiatric diagnosis in order to receive mental health treatment is absurd.
Fortunately, not all practitioners buy into this system. It is important to know that there are options for receiving mental health care that don’t require a diagnosis. Look for options in your local area, which can include agencies and practitioners who charge on a sliding scale. These counselors charge prices that vary depending on your ability to pay. Feel free to ask such a counselor if they’re willing to negotiate their fee, even if it means going lower than their stated scale.
Furthermore, there are agencies that specifically support people who don’t have insurance. The Center for Community Counseling here in Eugene is one such example. With the broadening acceptance of teletherapy, one’s options are no longer limited to your local area!
Counseling is appropriate in any of the following situations, none of which require a diagnosis:
Struggling with a values conflict, which often manifests when we are having to make a major decision
Systemic oppression or barriers--I’m a social worker. I believe in individual empowerment, but there’s a point at which there’s no denying that a person is struggling with barriers that are societal and/or systemic. Counseling can often help clarify one’s action plan in coping with the oppression or obstacles
Feeling like something is not quite right with your life, but you’re not able to pinpoint exactly what
One MAJOR factor to consider during this pandemic is this: we are grieving a LOT of losses right now, individually and collectively. Make no mistake, grief, loss, and sadness are very present for most of us right now.
Coming to counseling to make sense of what’s going on is a wise move. Coping with the pandemic and its fallout is presently a very significant issue for many of my clients. This, coupled with the volatile political and social climate, is creating additional stressors for many of us.
I am available to provide counseling in person for residents local to Lane County. Additionally, I am providing counseling via video for persons living anywhere in the state of Oregon. I would welcome the opportunity to consult with you and empower you on your journey to overcoming your barriers and achieving your goals!
If you’ve decided that it’s time to see a mental health counselor, and are wondering how you can find a good fit, you likely realize that this is not easy. There’s insurance to consider, and there’s the question of expertise, and of course, can you find a therapist who is a good fit for your personality and who you are?
Finally, many therapists have lengthy wait lists (weeks or even months) or simply aren't able to take on new clients.
Here are some things I’d encourage you to look for:
Someone who you feel is making an ACTIVE effort to understand your situation, instead of simply asking questions from a form. While the use of an assessment form of some type is standard during the first session, does the practitioner actually take time to ask you individualized questions about your situation and listen to understand you?
Do you feel good about the connection between you and the therapist? This is very important, listen to your gut
Is there a certain type of expertise you are looking for in your counselor?
Does the therapist listen to your definition of the problem, and accept it to some degree, or at least attempt to step into your world and understand how YOU see the problem?
On a similar note, is the counselor someone who gives time and attention to the issues you want to address, while also gently challenging you to look at things that you may not be aware of (blind spots, which of course we all have!)
Does the counselor have ideas about HOW they can help you with your challenges?
Don’t be shy about seeing more than one therapist before making your decision. The match between you and the therapist is an important one!
It's worth noting that one good way to search for a therapist is to log onto psychologytoday.com. It is a user-friendly site and it's easy to look for a therapist by area. You can check out many profiles and begin to discern who may be a good person to reach out to for a consultation.
For more information on what to look for, check out my webpage athttp://www.counselingtoempower.com/
For more about the process of counseling itself, as well as what various credentials mean, please see http://www.counselingtoempower.com/expectations-for-counseling.html
During this very strange period, unprecedented in recent times, there is so much uncertainty and fear. In addition to the obvious health risks, we’ve been thrown off of our daily routines in a fundamental way.
Because of this, it is very important that we engage in rituals that are healthy, comforting and familiar. Humans are creatures of habit. Our rituals keep us sane and provide calm and predictability.
From my perspective, here are some important things to engage in or consider at this time:
* Embrace gratitude. Celebrate and be thankful for those you love--never take them for granted. Honor them, cherish them, tell them how much they mean to you.
* Think about the things--large and small--for which you are grateful. A practice of gratitude gives us a wider perspective, one that helps us remember what is right in our lives, while dealing with everything else that is going on. Take a moment to appreciate all the front-line responders in this pandemic, and how much they are doing (and risking) for all of us!
* Pay attention to your activities at the very beginning and end of the day. These times are ‘tone setters’ for your day and your sleep, respectively. I’d strongly encourage not reading/watching the news first thing in the morning, or just before sleep. Instead, consider pondering, watching, or reading something inspiring, hopeful, or heartwarming.
* Be mindful of ‘screen time’. Some is good, and helps us reach out to people we cannot otherwise see right now. But notice when you feel drawn to it in a compulsive way, and, when you sense this, detach from it. Have 2-3 healthy alternative activities in mind for when you feel ‘hooked’ by dramatic news stories or negative social media.
* For instance, I have to ask myself if checking on pandemic only a couple of hours after I have done so is helpful. When I catch myself feeling compelled to look repeatedly at the news, I will do a mindfulness exercise, physical exercise, or something else that is healthier.
* I really appreciated a recent Brene Brown podcast, in which she discussed “F&%king First Times”. This term refers to activities that we engage in that are new to us. It’s critical to normalize the vulnerability and discomfort that goes with these activities.
* For all of us, this pandemic is certainly a first time thing! In the podcast, Brene reminds us that it’s okay to feel scared, worried, disappointed, etc. She adds, not only is it okay to feel these feelings, it’s very important to name them and talk about them with others. And…listen to others when they need support. This is a very important act of service for all of us right now.
* If possible, please take the time to help others via an act of service, a donation, a kind word, or some other act that eases the burden for those who are in need, especially for the most vulnerable in society.
When I am feeling down, and someone tells me to ‘just be positive’, I am at best annoyed with them and at worst I want to yell at them or worse (I don’t, but I sure think about it if I’m already in a bad mood!) Most other people tell me they also respond pretty negatively to this type of response from others.
So why doesn’t this response work for most people?
When someone else is down, and we tell them this, it is
1. patronizing--people usually feel talked down to. It’s a bit like “C’mon dude, get your shit together...pull yourself up and get it together!”
2. simplistic and usually unhelpful. Most people who are struggling want to be doing better, and if simply being positive was all they needed to do to feel better, they would do just that
3. basically another way of telling someone that their attitude is the problem. While attitude IS important, so is facing reality. When someone is feeling bad, there is usually a good reason for it, even if it is a matter of their perspective
Balance is so important, this implies a recognition that a) things aren’t the way we’d like them to be, b) an acceptance of this, and c) a strategy for how to make things better if possible. Just “being positive” is not a valid strategy.
This shouldn’t be confused with situations in which we need to make a conscious shift in our values, goals and focus in our lives--this is something that can be incredibly useful. Nonetheless, we need to remember that, if someone isn’t being or feeling very positive, there is probably a good reason for this
Soooo….what DO we do someone is down if we want to help them? Consider the following:
1. Listen to them. Stop what you’re doing, and listen. DON’T try to fix their problem, DO listen to them and listen for who and what is important to them in that moment. Listen, ask for clarification, and listen some more.
2. Make a suggestion? Give advice? Not right away. Most people rush too quickly to suggest a solution to someone’s problem. In fact, when mental health professionals are trained, we are taught to encourage the client to come up with their own solution to the problem, and to serve as a facilitator for that process, rather than provide advice or solutions. Why? Because people will almost always act on their own solutions more than someone else’s. This point is so important that I’d ask that you re-read it.
3. Then, maybe….IF and ONLY IF the person feels genuinely heard by you, you could make a suggestion or give some advice. If you’re patient and you’ve gotten to the point in the conversation where someone feels heard, this is the time to give input and advice, if it seems appropriate to the situation.
Yesterday I heard someone make a point about how things are going so well for them, and then, as we’ve come to see so commonly these days, she proceeded to tap the desk and say ‘knock on wood!’.
I’ve always disliked this expression but was never sure exactly why. Then it hit me. The other day, I was reading about a concept called Foreboding Joy. This concept has jumped on my radar during the last few months, partly from my review of the research of Brene Brown, and in various articles and videos relating to mental health and wellness.
The ‘knock on wood’ expression is a perfect example of Foreboding Joy in action.
It refers to the notion of realizing that something is going well, and then being struck with the fear (or the ‘yeah but…’) that it could all come crashing down at any minute. Any parent who has looked at their child lovingly and then been overcome by the terror that something horrible could happen to them knows exactly what I’m referring to.
Why do we do this? It protects us from vulnerability. Brown and others argue that joy is one of the most vulnerable emotions to experience. Think about it. It makes sense. As one of my clients recently put it, ‘the thing I’m most afraid of is crashing down after being happy’.
The antidote? Gratitude, as well as simply naming the presence of Foreboding Joy.
For example, upon noticing it, we might say to ourselves ‘ah, yep, there you are again….no problem, I notice you, but I’m not going to let you rule my thinking’. As discussed in the article on psychweb.com entitled "When Joy Feels Scary: 6 Resilience-Building Practices" (MaryBeth Covert, 2018), there are some simple (mind you, not necessarily easy) steps involved, things that are do-able for almost anyone.
1. Practicing what this article refers to as ‘gritty gratitude’. As stated, ‘this is not pollyanna gratitude’, this is conscious, intentional effort to direct our energy toward things that are good in our lives. Brene Brown’s extensive research on this subject supports the notion that we reduce the power of foreboding joy when we are sincerely, thoughtfully grateful.
2. Community. Talking with those we trust about our vulnerability, and where our fears lie and the reasons behind them. Fear thrives in isolation and uncertainty.
3. Genuine Curiousity. Taking note of our foreboding joy and noticing why we are doing it--even if it doesn’t serve us very well in the long run, there is a reason we engage in it, usually a protective mechanism. This involves learning about it, and learning from it.
So call it out. Being controlled by Foreboding Joy is no way to live. Make no mistake: Foreboding Joy robs us of Life’s Joy. So when you notice it, name it, learn from it, and embrace gratitude. Remember, life is full of ups and downs, and that’s okay!
This quote comes from Brene Brown, the well-known author and researcher. The short version is this:
“If you’re not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback”.
Taken from her book Rising Strong (2017), the longer version of this quote is this:
“A lot of cheap seats in the arena are filled with people who never venture onto the floor. They just hurl mean-spirited criticisms and put-downs from a safe distance. The problem is, when we stop caring what people think and stop feeling hurt by cruelty, we lose our ability to connect. But when we’re defined by what people think, we lose the courage to be vulnerable. Therefore, we need to be selective about the feedback we let into our lives. For me, if you’re not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.”
I respect and admire Brene Brown, not because she’s smart, not because she’s popular, but because she is down-to-earth and very wise (wisdom here defined as: intelligence with good judgement and the ability to look honestly at oneself and the world). I highly recommend her books and insights on shame, vulnerability, courage, and empathy AS WELL AS her insights about these forces operate in individuals and in society.
What Brown is talking about in this quote is a balance that lies somewhere in between shutting out what people think altogether and taking everyone’s feedback to heart.
This brings to mind something else. When considering feedback, one must consider the following two things:
1. The information itself
2. The source of the information
There are some people who have given me some pretty harsh feedback that frankly doesn’t change a thing that I do.
However, feedback from someone whose opinion I respect will make me take a long look at myself and consider what I can do differently or better. ALWAYS consider the source.
Now let’s look at another part of the quote:
the problem is, when we stop caring what people think and stop feeling hurt by cruelty, we lose our ability to connect. But when we’re defined by what people think, we lose the courage to be vulnerable.
This implies balance. Making sure that we care enough about what CERTAIN people think that we pay attention, accept feedback, and incorporate it into our approach. However, we also must keep feedback in perspective. We need to remind ourselves that it is very easy for people to hurl insults and criticisms at others and their ideas. On the other hand, it takes courage, time, dedication, and focused effort to put yourself out there with an idea or concept that may not be widely accepted.
Judging someone or something without trying to understand where they are coming from is so easy to do, and so misguided. And yes….I absolutely have to call myself out on this one periodically. Don’t we all? So let’s be mindful of who we critique and on what basis.
Malala Yousafzai is an incredibly courageous and inspiring individual.
She is a Pakistani education advocate who, at the age of 17 in 2014, became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize. This occurred 2 years after surviving an assassination attempt by the Taliban. This exceptional woman became a staunch advocate for education for girls when she was quite young. Her persistent efforts resulted in the Taliban issuing death threats against her.
On October 9, 2012, a Taliban gunman shot Malala when she was traveling home from school. She survived and has continued to speak out on the importance of education in spite of continued threats against her life.
In 2013, on her 16th birthday, she gave a speech to the United Nations. Shortly thereafter, Malala published her first book, “I Am Malala”.
She says, “The extremists were, and they are, afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women... Let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons.” She goes on to say “pens and books are the weapons that defeat terrorism”.
Malala adds that “I don't want revenge on the Taliban, I want education for sons and daughters of the Taliban.”
(Sources: https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/7064545.Malala_Yousafzai) https://www.biography.com/activist/malala-yousafzai)
Malala inspires me so much! These quotes ring true on many levels. Education is often the most powerful weapon in fighting extremism such as that of the Taliban. Real education and learning involves taking a closer, deeper look at things, and not falling prey to simplistic or sensationalistic conclusions. It entails thinking critically about issues, and considering our core values as we make decisions in our lives.
Engaging in critical thinking is one of the most common things that I find myself encouraging my clients and students to do. It is SO important, because this is how we truly examine whether or not something makes sense, whether it fits with our values and convictions, and whether or not it’s right for us, our families, and/or the world.
The power of this type of critical thinking--sparked by quality education--is something that Malala understands and is willing to fight and die for.
Pens and books. Education. Knowledge. Empowerment. These are the things that, in the long run, will defeat extremism, terrorism, and the all-too-common human tendency to formulate simplistic conclusions based on fear and limited information. We are at a point in time in our history where we must look beyond simplistic, all-or-nothing explanations of problems and issues.
My encouragement to you is this: Ask yourself WHY you believe what you do, and just as important, WHO you support (personally, professionally, politically, etc.) and why. Periodically introspect about this, and remember, it’s alright and in fact inevitable to change our beliefs and values in certain areas of life over time.
This quote comes from Bill Russell, the great center of the Boston Celtics who won 11 championships in 13 years. He has written several books and has been active in the social justice scene in American society. Many people--including myself--consider him to be one of the wisest former professional athletes alive today.
“Adversity is said to bring out the best in people. I don’t believe that for a moment. It brings out only what they have to do. It begins with self-acceptance and then proceeds, through resilience, to taking the necessary positive actions”
I like Russell’s definition, because it focuses on the importance of first accepting one’s situation, and then formulating a plan for how to respond to the adversity. In my experience, this approach has been present in many situations in which I’ve seen someone respond well to adversity.
Acceptance. This is a powerful concept. Acceptance as I see it doesn’t mean “okay, great, everything is fine”. It means that we get to a point where we realize that this bad/really bad/awful thing(s) happened, and now we’ve put it into--or have begin to put it into--perspective in the larger context of our lives.
The self-acceptance that Russell talks about is also very important, as often the adversity is a mistake we’ve made, or it’s something that has happened to us that we feel (correctly or not) somehow we could’ve prevented.
Resilience. Another important, powerful concept. Webster defines it “as an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change”. What gives an individual the ability to do this? First of all, there is no doubt that biological and social factors--socioeconomic status, gender, genetics, etc.--play into this, to some degree.
In any case, below is a list of factors that I believe are particularly important in determining one’s resilience.
Viewing change as a challenge or opportunity. Change is truly a constant in life. While adversity isn’t always a blessing, adapting to changing--and sometimes unfortunate--circumstances is essential. If it’s possible to see opportunities in the change or adversity, this is a good thing
Recognition of limits to control. The Serenity Prayer is a wonderful prayer in this sense, as it reminds us that many things are out of our control. Accepting this fact, and knowing the difference between what we can and cannot influence are critical.
Close, secure attachment to others. There is nothing like a support system to help us through adversity.
Engaging the support of others--personal or professional. This also means being vulnerable and asking others for help--two things that are very difficult but very important for people to do!
Personal or collective goals. Goals are crucial, and can give us direction when things seem pointless or hopeless.
Past successes. There’s nothing like the confidence that comes from past success.
A sense of humor. This is one of the most important factors. We must be able to laugh at ourselves and circumstances.
Patience. Almost everything that’s truly worthwhile takes time and sustained effort.
I’m going to delve into the virtue of several quotes over the next few blogs. I’m starting with this one:
Be Quick But Don’t Hurry--John Wooden (UCLA basketball coach, 1948-75).
Coach Wooden was not only one of the greatest coaches in the history of sports, he was also well-known as one of the happiest people around, and a man who would stick to his values no matter what.
I absolutely love this quote. It involves the notion of being efficient and focused, but not allowing your energy to reach the point where you are frantic. Coach Wooden also used to say “I don’t want activity without achievement”. When we have frantic activity without achievement, we can be sure we are hurrying.
It’s interesting to me how much more I can accomplish when I am focused and mindful, but don’t go to the point where I am hurrying. There’s a balance in this mindset, something that I’ve had to work on over the years. I occasionally catch myself going too fast, at which point I take a deep breath or two, and go back to the point where I’m more balanced in my approach to whatever the task is.
This concept has served me so well over the past few years--in everything from driving, to loading groceries, to accomplishing tasks at work. I have watched others who do this very well, and I have observed others who struggle with it.
Our society seems to value going 100 mph at all times and ‘giving 110%’ (who can actually give more than 100% anyway?). In the process of doing so, we lose our sense of balance in our daily lives, which in turn slowly erodes our mental health. This can have substantial negative consequences over time.
I often talk with my clients about the concept of speed and balance. We talk about our speed at any given moment, on a scale of 1-10 (1 being slowest, 10 being fastest). I encourage them to be mindful of their speed, and of signs that they may be going faster than is ideal for them. We talk about the difference it can make to take 2-3 good deep breaths, and then shift one notch down--from a 9 to an 8, or from an 8 to a 7, etc.
Normally, people will come back and talk about the difference this incredibly simple but effective intervention makes. I encourage you to consider the value of this concept in your own life!
I recently came across a great quote, one that really got me thinking. It addresses the concept of teachershelping their students put into practice what they have learned in the classroom. Here it is:
The purpose of the teacher is to draw out, not to cram in. We must create an interest in the heart and mind that will make the learner reach out and take hold upon the things that (s)he is taught.
Henrietta Mears, teacher/author
There is such wisdom is this statement. And, make no mistake, it presents a formidable yet exciting challenge for us teachers, trainers, and supervisors.
How many times have you been in a training or class where it seemed like teachers were trying to ‘cram in’ as much as possible? Was that the ideal manner for you to learn and draw out your abilities? I once facilitated a training in which I had the feeling that it just wasn’t going quite right, even though I felt I was sharing a lot of good information. Sure enough, when I reflected on it, I realized that I was ‘cramming in’. This was not/is not my style, and I admit that I was a little irritated at myself after realizing what I had done.
I believe that teachers are most ‘successful’ in their jobs when they are able to draw out the skill, wisdom, and talent that is already in the learner. This involves making the assumption that we are working from strength, that our ‘students’ (whoever they may be) are competent, capable beings, and that our job is to bring out the strength and wisdom that is already present within them.
For many of us, this requires conscious effort. After all, most of us know full well the importance of teaching in life--be this parenting, mentoring, supervising, counseling, or whatever role it may be. You must be willing and able to take charge when needed and direct the activities or conversation.
Nonetheless, I would argue that the greatest teachers are the ones who understand that teaching is, for the most part, a process of empowerment. We certainly share information and expertise, but more than that we inspire, we empower, and we build confidence and expand the sense of possibility in our ‘students’.
Whenever I doubt this, all that I need to do is to reflect on the teachers in my life who have been the most influential for me. I invite you to do the same now.
For all of you who are teachers in some way, shape, or form, consider the power and significance of Mears’ quote.
I’ve wanted to resume blogging just a bit, but I haven’t been sure where to start. As I considered this, I took a big-picture look at the world and started thinking about the importance of being able to listen to one another, even when we don’t agree.
This quality takes some determination--and frankly, courage--to develop because in doing so we have to admit that there is a lot we don’t know, and that other people may in fact prove us wrong about various things. It also involves some vulnerability--a state of being that most people will go to great lengths to avoid...including yours truly!
As a mental health counselor and supervisor of other counselors, the ability to hang in there with others when I don’t see eye to eye with them is absolutely fundamental to the success of my work.
And...for some reason, a standard blog didn’t seem right this time around. I have dabbled in poetry before, on and off through the years, and decided to give it a go for this blog.
TITLE: We Listen, We Learn
Often times the world isn’t fair
Many people have warned me to beware
Then again it seems
The world is a place of unlimited dreams
Is our world a place of danger?
or a place of harmony?
Which is true, you ask?
It is both, don’t you see?
People argue; we disagree
Discussing the way things should be
Instead of listening
we simply yell louder
Puffing our chests, prouder and prouder
Shouting our truth
Proclaiming that we’re right
And where does this leave us?
Nowhere, try as we might
The answer doesn’t lie in yelling louder you see
Nor in exclaiming “This is how it must be!”
Nor in saying “this is the way things have always been done!”
Refusing to listen to anyone
With an open mind and heart
We can give ourselves a new start
And though it takes courage to face the unknown
Listening to others who differ can be good, history has shown
So stay humble, be hungry to learn
No-one said it would easy
All good things we have to earn
Learning from others is vital we know
It’s such a good way to learn and grow
No-one has said we must agree
With the way our neighbor believes things should be
‘Cause when all of life is said and done
And gone are all the joys and fun
We won’t be remembered for being right
But for helping others with all of our might
This world can be an amazing place
But to make it so takes a lot of grace
The strength to stand firm
But to listen too
For in doing so we teach ourselves and our neighbor too
I am taking a break for blogging for the next couple of months. Have a wonderful holiday season and a happy new year!
In the last blog, I talked about the merits of slowing down a notch, and the critical importance of asking for help when we need to do so.
Australian Palliative Care nurse Bronnie Ware’s book “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying” reminds us of the critical importance of being able to live life at a healthy pace. More at: https://bronnieware.com/blog/regrets-of-the-dying/
The five regrets are:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Ware’s book and list have made a profound impression on me. Clearly, Ware describes issues that go way beyond the subject of this blog. Nonetheless, what does this list tell us about the pace at which we live our lives?
I see it like this: No one seems to say, “I wish I’d pushed myself harder at work...if only I’d hurried through my days faster, things would’ve worked out better”. Items #2 and #5 in particular are highly relevant to the notion of slowing down a notch, smelling the roses, and allowing ourselves to be present in daily life.
Slowing down a little also gives us time to give thanks for what we have. In the “Book of Joy”, Nobel Prize winner Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama state that gratitude and perspective are two of the eight “Pillars of Joy”, which they describe in detail in this wonderful book.
In discussing these two fundamental keys to joy, they underscore the importance of being mindful of the speed at which we live our lives, and encourage the reader to consider that, without stepping back from the daily grind on a regular basis to take a breather, to consider our lives, where we’ve been, and the direction we are headed, these two pillars cannot be experienced.
If you are reading this and thinking “You don’t understand, I simply cannot slow down; I have too many obligations”. Consider this: can you afford NOT to slow down? Where will your mental and physical health be if you continue at the current pace? What will happen to those counting on you if your health pays the price?
Please consider getting help and support, whether this is help in the tasks you are engaged in, support from loved ones, or help in the form of mental health counseling.
One last thought--I have been amazed how many times I find myself accomplishing MORE in my day by slowing down a notch. Many of my clients and co-workers have reported that this is true for them as well. The quality of our lives, and the quality of our contribution to others, are what matter most.
In my last blog, I discussed stress, and specifically how we identify signs that we may have more than is healthy for us in our lives.
The following are all activities that we can engage in to enhance our mindful awareness, which will help us be alert to signs that there is perhaps too much stress in our lives:
A Regular Relaxation Routine
Making sure we get enough sleep at night
The above are all good, fundamental things we can do to enhance our health and mindful awareness. At this point you may be saying, ‘well no duh Gene; I could’ve told you this much!’
Okay, well here is a concept that is very important in the realm of efficiency and mental health: Slow down a notch. In order words, reduce the speed at which you move around from task to task during the day.
You may be thinking, I don’t have time for that! Consider this: if you are racing around like a chicken with its head cut off, how effective are you?
Where are you usually at, on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being low speed and 10 being high speed? Now, consider where you are at when you are stressed out. Do you go even faster? Most people do, and I would argue that--for the vast majority of us--this makes things worse.
I have worked with many clients who have reported that they operate at an 8-10 on this scale, but note that, when they slow down just a notch in their daily lives, they find that they are more satisfied with the outcomes.
Why is this? Could it be that, by slowing down a notch--not necessarily doing less in our day, mind you--we become more focused and thus perform at a level closer to our peak? This certainly has been true in my own experience, and for many people I work with.
One key variable is concentration. IF slowing down a notch improves focus and concentration, than you KNOW you are on the right track. IF multitasking just a bit less improves the quality of your work, then you are on the right track.
An excellent book on this subject is “In Praise of Slowness” by Carl Honore. Recommended to me years ago by a dear friend (Jan F, I hope your reading this!), this book challenges modern society’s culture of speed and multitasking, while discussing the merits of slowing down a bit in key places in our lives.
All of this highlights the notion of quality (over quantity) in our lives. In addition, by functioning in a more mindful fashion, we also can better recognize the difference between normal and unhealthy quantities of stress.
In the next blog--I will continue discussing the merits of slowing down a notch, and the critical importance of asking for help for those who feel that they simply cannot slow down.
We all know that stress is a part of life, as inevitable as death and taxes.
Sometimes we have more, sometimes less. In the 1980’s, there was much talk about the difference between “eustress” (supposedly the good kind of stress) and “distress” (which was used to describe the unhealthy kind that made us sick and was bad for our health).
As we know, some stress is good, and in fact necessary to provide us with a level of urgency and energy to propel us forward with our life goals.
Here is an important question: How do we know when we have too much stress? Are we paying enough attention to notice when we have too much? I am defining ‘too much’ as the point where we need to do something about it, because to continue with the current level of stress would be detrimental to our health.
What does your body tell you when you are stressed out? Does your stress manifest in your body in the form of tension--headaches, backache, pain in the neck (literally, not figuratively!) or shoulders, etc?
What does your mind tell you? For instance, many people say that, when they are quite stressed out, their mind races faster than normal, or they are more forgetful. Others find that they blank out, and simply can’t think clearly at all. Still others find that their minds are more prone to ‘thinking errors’, something I’ll discuss more in the next blog.
How important is it that we pay attention to these signs that we are experiencing a level of stress that is not healthy for us? I think it’s vital, in order to make adjustments so that we can restore more of a balance in the moment.
By making adjustments (slowing down, taking a break, or simply changing the priorities in our day/week), we can continue to function in a healthier fashion going forward.
Consider this: what happens to us when we ignore mental and physical signs of a concerning level of stress in our lives? Can we ‘suck it up’ and make due in the short run? Probably in most cases, but what happens to us over time--weeks, months, or years? What price do we pay? I’ve seen the answer in the lives of many people who do not make adjustments--the price can be a host of mental or physical health issues, some very serious.
Granted, some people can tolerate more stress than others; this is why the important thing is to 1) have balance in your life and 2) to recognize when your stress level is higher than is healthy--for you.
Others may have more stress than is healthy for them, but simply cannot change their circumstances. If this is true for you, consider seeking professional help.
In my next blog I will address strategies for increasing our ability to recognize signs of unhealthy stress, as well as coping methods for unhealthy thought patterns.
I recently re-read Christopher Reeves’ well-known quote pertaining to taking on challenges. It goes like this:
So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable. (Taken from: http://www.quoteswise.com/christopher-reeve-quotes.html)
I could break this quote down and analyze it endlessly--in terms of the truth within it, as well as certain situations where it doesn’t really fit--but that’s not why I bring it up. This quote makes a clear statement about persistence, and acknowledges that many challenges seem impossible and very daunting at first.
When I heard this quote again the other day, it reminded me of the process that we must navigate when we face what is commonly known as The Imposter Syndrome. As described in the book “Be Quiet, Be Heard” by Susan & Peter Glazer, the Imposter Syndrome (or what the Glazer’s call the Dropout Syndrome) has four phases
1. Feeling Phony2. Feeling Uncomfortable3. Feeling (more or less) comfortable4. Feeling Natural
Regardless of what we call it, I am absolutely convinced that this is a very real thing for most of us.
I find myself discussing this with my students and to clients and supervisees as well. Think about how applicable this ‘syndrome’ is.
For example, how many times have you felt like you were in over your head with a new job or project, and that, once people saw the real truth, they’d see what a total phony you are! Wow, what a scary thought! I KNOW I’ve had this thought process numerous times over the years.
For example, I remember my first class at Lane Community College eight years ago. I was not only extremely nervous, but I was positive that one or more of the students was going to openly criticize me for being incompetent. Then, the truth would be known that I was totally incapable of this task, I thought.
Indeed, there were a few students who expressed concerns about the way the class was going. However, I learned, I adapted, I persisted, and eventually (amazingly enough) I grew to like teaching!
My evolution as a teacher has mirrored what the Glazer’s describe in their book; namely, the transition from feeling phony, to just plain uncomfortable, to more or less comfortable, to natural.
For me, feeling “natural” about my duties as a counselor, a teacher, and a clinical supervisor took time. How did I know when I felt natural about it? When I could think about these roles and think “this is part of who I am...it is something I do on a regular basis”. It became part of my identity. When has this happened for you?
When you find yourself feeling like you don’t measure up, ask yourself “What is this about? Is this the Imposter Syndrome in action?!” If it is, naming it, appreciating the normalcy of it, and understanding the stages of it will likely be empowering for you.
I've been at a loss for what to blog about lately. Sometimes the inspiration just isn't there.
However, I've just finished reading a wonderful book entitled "The Body Keeps the Score" by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. This book is the best book about the subject of trauma that I've ever come across, especially in terms of the practical insights that it holds for both helping professionals and trauma survivors alike.
Written in a no-nonsense fashion, the author shares experiences from his own career, which includes time spent working at several psychiatric hospitals way back in the 1960's and 70's. He then details more recent work, and the evolution of his ever-changing perspective on the best way to empower trauma survivors to be able to re-engage in a full and meaningful life.
His sharing of personal experiences, combined with his humility, and his willingness to learn from--and be inspired by--his patients, is refreshing.
Furthermore, his overview of various treatment strategies that have worked for survivors of some of the worst trauma imaginable gives realistic hope to many people.
This wonderful work goes over the vital connection between brain, body, and mind, as well as the plight facing many adults who carry trauma from childhood. He then goes on to describe best practices around treating complex trauma, with real-to-life case examples.
Bessel Van Der Kolk is the co-director of the Complex Trauma Treatment Network and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. More information on Dr. Van Der Kolk can be found at https://besselvanderkolk.net/index.html
In this blog, I continue discussing factors that contribute to the presence (or absence) of resilience. As discussed in the previous blog, resilience is absolutely critical in coping with adversity.
Here are more factors that I believe to be fundamentally important to the presence of resilience:
1. A sense of humor. This quality is so important. Being able to laugh at ourselves, and at circumstances, is a very good stress relief. It also tends to help us have a better perspective on things. I have had many clients tell me that their sense of humor is what has kept them going in the midst of adversity.
A very important point: When I talk about humor, I DO NOT mean humor at the expense of others. While most of us use this kind of humor once in awhile, when our sense of humor is primary made up of putting others down, this points to cynicism, self-righteousness, and jealousy. I specifically emphasize this because that type of humor can actually diminish our resilience and create more unhappiness in our lives, rather than serving a healthy purpose.
2. Perspective--Let me define this one. Perspective in this context is having a ‘big picture view of things’ with respect to our problems. In other words, it’s the ability to see our adversity in a larger context, one that keeps in mind that the present adversity exists within a larger scheme in life.
Make no mistake, sometimes having this perspective is a very hard thing to do--especially when the adversity is a trauma of some sort. However, being able to gain a sense of perspective on even the worst types of trauma is critical. The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu talk about this in “The Book of Joy” (2016, p. 200):
“Think about where you are suffering in life and then think about all the other people who are going through a similar situation. This perhaps is quite literally the birth of compassion, which means ‘suffering with’.”
They go on to say that this “reminds us that we are not alone, and actually lessens our own pain. This recognition of our interdependence begins to soften our rigid sense of self, the boundaries that separate us from others”.
3. Gratitude--It’s hard to overstate the importance of gratitude. No matter where we find ourselves in life, no matter what predicament we may be in, one of the most critically important variables that affects our resilience is the degree of gratitude we express, feel, and hold in our consciousness.
Additionally, fostering a sense of gratitude in the midst of adversity helps us to have quality #2 in more abundance.
Finally, there is no question that having financial resources can be very helpful in coping with certain types of adversity. Humility, Compassion, and Acceptance are also key, and are three qualities which the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu discuss in the wonderful book I referenced earlier.
I have long been interested in the widely different responses of individuals and families to adversity. Some people seem to be able to cope pretty well in the face of adversity, heartache, loss, and trauma, while others do not. The difference from person to person is truly astounding, and it doesn’t always make logical sense (at least, not when looking at it from the outside).
In examining adversity, the notion of resilience is an absolutely critical factor in this equation. Thus, it is the focus of this blog.
According to the American Psychological Association (2018), Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means "bouncing back" from difficult experiences.Taken from: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience.aspx.
Using this definition, several things come to mind. In this blog, I will share three qualities that I believe to be critically important in determining how much resilience we have in the face of adversity.
1. Flexibility in mindset and approach. With this quality we are not wedded to any one strategy in overcoming challenges; without it, we can become too rigid in our mindset and not be open to other ways to address adversity
2. This next one is commonly overlooked when discussing this subject, and IT IS HUGELY IMPORTANT: Allowing oneself to experience strong unpleasant emotions.
This involves allowing ourselves to experience a certain level of vulnerability--something many people avoid at almost any cost! With this ability, we can face our situation more fully, acknowledge our state of being accurately, and assess where to go from there. Without it, we are never really in touch with what’s going on inside us, and thus will have great difficulty responding in a way that will be mentally and emotionally healthy for us.
Adding to the problem, our society generally looks down on vulnerability as weakness and as highly undesirable, instead of being a normal part of the human experience.
Grief is a good example of this. Without letting ourselves experience the waves of sadness and vulnerability, we risk not being able to move through the experience in a healthy manner, and become ‘stuck’ in our grief. This of course results in these strong feelings coming out in other ways--as anxiety, physical health issues, or simply an ongoing sense of numbness that we can’t seem to move past.
3. Having a support system. With this in place, we gain support and wisdom from others. Without it, we experience isolation and often remain ‘stuck in our ways’, lacking other viewpoints that may be just what we need to break through our challenges.
There are of course many other factors that come into play when measuring one’s resilience, such as financial resources, a sense of humor, perspective, humility, and gratitude.
I will elaborate on several of these in the next blog.
In my last blog, I shared quotes that have inspired myself and many others.
In this blog, I want to share three common statements that I am not fond of. In fact, the majority of the time I believe they are simply not true, even though many people accept them at face value.
1. Good things come to those who wait.
Hmmm...not necessarily. There must be persistence applied to the situation, otherwise one is passively waiting around for something to happen. When persistence and diligent awareness is combined with patience, this can be a very good thing. When applied over time, this combination can lead to triumph, even when there have been many setbacks or failures.
We think of Thomas Edison and the lightbulb--I hear different things about how many times he ‘failed’ to make the lightbulb work. He is reported to have once said the following to someone who labeled his efforts to create a working lightbulb as a failure:
"I have not failed. I've just found 700 ways that won't work." People debate the actual number that he said, but I think you get the idea.
2. Adversity makes one stronger. Sometimes this is true, but often it is not. Adversity can beat people down. I see people often go into a tailspin after adverse events in their lives, especially after a series of them.
A very interesting question to ponder is this: What’s the difference between people who seem to get stronger from adversity and those who despair and become more depressed, cynical, etc.? Hmmm...
3. This last one is not so much a quote, but rather a statement that adults make to children, and/or one that older adults make to younger adults.
“When you get older, you are going to see that the world works like...” (fill in the blank, but it’s some prediction of how the younger individual is going to see the world, or people, or events, at some point in their lives).
This one drives me crazy, and it’s not helpful the majority of the time. What is really being communicated here? To me, this sounds like “I really know what’s best, and you’re going to learn to see it the way I do someday”
Wow, really?! How in the world does someone know this? Even if the advice or input is solid, more often than not this statement creates resentment and disengagement, rather than true learning or growth. I’ve witnessed this statement--and the accompanying negative reaction--more times than I care to remember, both in my work and in my life.
From my viewpoint, it’s easy to see why people don’t react well to this. One alternative to this statement could be “This has been my experience, and this is why I believe this to be true”.
I now finish this blog by saying that Statement #2--and the question of why people respond so differently to adversity in life--deserves more attention, and soon!
Quote #1: In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years--Abraham Lincoln
Isn’t it true? Nothing spells fulfillment more than a live well-lived, regardless of age. On the other hand, one could live to be 100 years, but if someone hasn’t lived according to their values, and has missed opportunities because of this, regret will ensue.
Quote #2: Three things that we want the most--happiness, freedom, and peace of mind--are gained when we give them to others. (Versions of this have been attributed to many people)
While this can’t be scientifically proven, I believe it firmly, because 1) I’ve seen it in my own life, and 2) watched this work for many, many others. Another way of phrasing this quote would be “Happiness begins where selfishness ends”. As long as we balance this with proper self-care, and avoid co-dependency (which means neglecting one’s own needs to a degree that is unhealthy for the giver), I believe that this is true for the vast majority of situations and people
Quote #3: You must be the change you wish to see in the world--Ghandi.
In my experience, if we want to have change in the world, there is nothing more fulfilling or meaningful than to be part of something that contributes to that change. For example, I have recently been quite frustrated with the lack of tolerance in this country for minority populations and persons who are marginalized. I had--and still have--a lot of energy around this. I could either throw up my hands and say ‘there’s nothing I can do’ or take action in some way.
So I’ve done the latter, by engaging in the process of learning Spanish and by serving as a consultant for the wonderful counseling staff at Centro Latino Americano. This has been great for me, and has resulted in a much more positive state of being than if I’d simply gotten frustrated.
Quote #4: If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it--Mary Engelbreit
The first part of this quote reinforces the message from quote #3. The second part of it involves coping with things that we cannot control.
For example, there are plenty of things I cannot change in life (certain world affairs, even the behavior of those around me), and if I let the frustration of this get to me, this will adversely impact my well-being AND my ability to affect change over the things in which I do have control. The Serenity Prayer (which is commonly used in 12-step recovery programs) speaks directly to this point
In my next blog I will address popular quotes that in my opinion have serious flaws
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more patient--with others, with circumstances, and with myself. Emphasis on that last one!
To me, patience is a quiet, steady perserverance, an even-tempered mindset, in which one tolerates circumstances which are challenging, anxiety-provoking, frustrating, etc. Patience implies an attitude that good things do take time, flexibility, and persistence. It implies staying focused on the larger goal versus getting caught up in the shortcomings or challenges in the moment.
The aspect of patience that seems to be hardest for many people is patience with themselves. I see this very often with the clients I work with. Many of us are so hard on ourselves that it keeps us from seeing ourselves in an accurate light.
For instance, if I am too hard on myself, I may not give myself enough credit for my growth and development in a certain area of my life. My inability to accurately self-assess can then turn into misplaced energy, because I’m still working on a problem or challenge that I’m actually doing pretty well with, instead of focusing my energy into an area where it is really needed.
Another thing that can happen to us when we are not patient with ourselves is that we become discouraged in our efforts to cope with a problem, and instead of displaying the resilience needed in the situation, we give less effort or simply give up. This is very unfortunate, and it happens a lot.
On the flip side, what happens when we are patient with ourselves? If I have a setback in my life, but I remain patient, I’m much more likely to be persistent and work through the problem.
A good example of this is my current challenge of trying to learn a foreign language at age 50. As I learn Spanish, it is critical that I accept my shortcomings, while also accurately assessing where I most need to develop my skills. Without patience in myself, there is no way I’ll reach my goal of eventually becoming fluent. This is true of so many goals we strive for.
Here are two great quotes on patience with ourselves
Have patience with all things but, chiefly, have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections, but instantly set about remedying them. Every day, begin the task anew. St. Francis de Sales
If you can’t deal with failure, you can’t coach. Because we all fail. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke U. basketball coach
Many people lack patience with themselves because they were taught that perfection is the only acceptable outcome. While we all know that no-one is perfect, it’s easier to say this than to emotionally accept that we have shortcomings, and that IT IS NORMAL AND HUMAN to have setbacks and mistakes in our lives.
If you have a difficult time accepting your own shortcomings, it may be time to see a counselor about this, or at least engage is some sincere self-examination.
Continuing on my last blog from about two weeks ago, here are some ways to enhance one’s life balance.
1. Make sure you have friends outside of your family and work circles. This helps one engage with people who are very likely to have a different perspective on life and on you, which in turn helps you to see things from different viewpoints and to engage in activities you may not otherwise be exposed to.
2. Every morning, for a few minutes after waking up, and for a few minutes before going to sleep, expose yourself to something that is inspiring, hopeful, or calming. Doing so helps you set the tone for your day--and for your rest at night
3. Engage in a daily relaxation routine. This can be as little as 3-4 minutes, twice a day. However, the more time you invest in this per day, typically the biggest reward you will reap over time. This could be simple, mindful deep breathing, or it could be meditation, yoga, or a peaceful walk in the woods
4. Take time to be thankful for what you have. At the end of #3, take a minute or two and reflect on the things you have in your life that you are grateful for. As simple as this one is, it is VERY powerful in cultivating thoughts and feelings of gratitude, perspective, and a more hopeful outlook on life.
5. Set goals in each significant area of your life. Keep track of them over time. This could include• Your physical being• Your spiritual alignment• Your mental development• Your job and career• Your finances
6. Periodically--at least twice a year--take some time to re-evaluate where you are at in your life and where you want to go. Our values are important to consider in this. More on this at http://www.counselingtoempower.com/personal-values.html
7. Cultivate your sense of humor--this one is so important that Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama included it in their list of the “Eight Pillars of Joy” in “The Book of Joy”. Seeing the humor in situations and in ourselves helps calm us and releases healthy energy, cultivating positive emotion as well.
8. Practice Forgiveness--another one of the Eight Pillars of Joy. This very powerful--and very challenging--concept can be, in my experience, an absolute life-changer for people. This may involve forgiving yourself as much as forgiving others. An absolutely outstanding book on this subject is Desmond Tutu’s “The Book of Forgiving”.
It is not easy to maintain life balance on an ongoing basis; it’s almost like weeding one’s garden. You have to stay on top of it. It takes consistent attention and diligence, and it’s impossible to be perfect at it. But do your best. The short and long-term benefits are substantial!
I’ve been thinking and talking a lot about the notion of balance lately. I’ve even heard people say that, next to love, balance is the most important thing in life.
Is this stretching things? I’m not so sure. When I look around and see people who seem happy and fulfilled in life, they usually seem to be living lives that are relatively balanced.
So what is this ‘balance’ that I speak of?
According to Natalie Gahrmann on MomMD: Balance is a feeling derived from being whole and complete; it's a sense of harmony. It is essential to maintaining quality in life and work. Your life is made up of many vital areas including your health, family, financial, intellectual, social, work, spiritual, recreation, personal growth, romance and more. (see end of blog for citation)
In some ways, having balance in our lives is a bit like watering plants--we have needs that are spiritual, physical, mental/emotional, social, career, etc.
Granted, having balance in all of these areas is NOT easy to do. But I believe that it’s essential to do. So do many other people. Here are some quotes from various notable people on this subject:
Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony. Thomas Merton
When you have balance in your life, work becomes an entirely different experience. There is a passion that moves you to a whole new level of fulfillment and gratitude, and that's when you can do your best... for yourself and for others. Cara Delevingne
Just as your car runs more smoothly and requires less energy to go faster and farther when the wheels are in perfect alignment, you perform better when your thoughts, feelings, emotions, goals, and values are in balance. Brian Tracy
Balance is key. Balance is a virtue. Balance is next to godliness, maybe. We should all aspire to better balance. Too much of what is said in this world is one-sided, and we need more balance - in our speech, in our music, in our art, in everything. CeeLo Green
"Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life." Dolly Parton
"Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm, and harmony." Thomas Merton
“Next to love, balance is the most important thing in life” John Wooden
In my next blog, I will talk about steps that one can take to bring about a greater level of balance and harmony in one’s life.
Citation: Gahrmann, N. (n.d.). A Balanced Life: Can You Really Have It All? Retrieved June, 2018, from https://www.mommd.com/canyouhaveitall.shtml
I was recently talking with my wife, who had been listening to a speaker who had emphasized the important difference between solitude and silence. A light bulb went off in my brain! This distinction had never really occurred to me. Let me clarify the difference as I see it.
Solitude--spending time alone. Our mind may or may not be racing, we may or may not be truly be present in the moment
Silence--Being in a state where there is an absence of noise and sound, externally speaking. One isn’t necessarily alone at this time.
We sometimes tell ourselves, “I need some time to myself”. I wonder what people really mean when they think this...do they mean they just want time away from other people (solitude), or do they mean they want some time away from commotion, to have a chance to turn down the volume in life, and experience not only solitude but actual silence?
This begs the question….HOW does one quiet the mind? We can do so in several ways--by paying attention to our breathing--via meditation, yoga, or even via simple, mindful deep breaths (stopping, breathing from the abdomen, taking a minute or two to just be present).
Music can also help us do this, as can a gentle bath or shower.
We can also attain a level of silence by focusing on something--art, poetry, writing, even physical activity. If we do something we love, we can sometimes experience a silence and serenity that is very powerful.
Something else that I encourage: When we are first getting up in the AM, or laying down to sleep in the PM--take a few moments to be silent, breathe calmly and deeply, and appreciate the good things you have in your life. I also make it a point to read something inspiring, comforting, or hopeful during the first and last moments of each day. I’m convinced that this helps us set a positive tone for our day and for our rest. I believe that this ritual also cultivates serenity, a highly related concept!
More simple ways to quiet the mind at: http://www.beliefnet.com/wellness/health/21-simple-ways-to-quiet-the-mind.aspx?p=4
One other question: WHY should we take time for silence in our lives? The benefits are many:
It allows us to reflect on our lives in a way that we cannot do when we are busy and there is noise around us
It gives us a greater sense of awareness of self and our environment
It can help us become more creative. When we are less invested in controlling our mind, creative and resourceful things bubble up in our minds
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you find that the experience of silence brings up painful issues for you, and/or creates more anxiety, sadness, etc. rather than doing anything good for you, I strongly encourage you to consult with a mental health professional! A skilled professional can help you work through these issues and gain a greater level of serenity
If there is one constant about the clients that I work with, it is this: almost all have suffered a significant loss in their lives. Therefore, it seems very relevant that I blog about this issue once again. I blogged about grief a year ago, and I’ve dedicated two web pages to grief.
I would certainly consider myself someone who is very, very adept at working with grief & loss issues. I’ve learned that it’s something that comes up in counseling, for nearly everyone.
Experiencing loss is such a core part of living life. This can take the shape of:
The loss of a dear friend, family member, spouse, parent, or child
Loss of a job
Loss of a relationship (intimate partner, dear friend, etc)
Moving to a new area--this means you’ve lost a lot of routines and people in your life!
Loss of a pet. By itself, this can be heartbreaking, but loss of our pets can often bring up unresolved grief stemming from our ‘human losses’
Loss of physical ability which may mean you are now more dependent on others
And much, much more
Certainly, there are many different ways to work through one’s grief and losses. Different things work for different folks. However, one thing that seems to be true for almost everyone is that people must be able to externalize their thoughts and feelings. This of course means that we grasp the fact that we’ve had a loss and admit to ourselves that it has and is affecting us.
This is easier said than done for many people! Some of us tend to see ourselves as being able to ‘handle anything’, and ‘roll with the punches’.
However, I would argue that rolling with the punches also means that we recognize when something is affecting us. Remember, it’s okay--and in fact healthy--to admit that we’ve had a loss, and that it’s making our lives more complex and challenging. For others, it’s not so much a matter of admitting the gravity of the loss as trying to figure out how to come to terms with it.
While everyone deals with grief differently, externalization is critically important in working through it. This could occur via writing, talking, exercise, drawing, poetry, etc. Do whatever works for you, but please externalize and/or express it.
If you do not, the grief will come out sideways--in the form of anxiety, depression, and/or all sorts of physical health issues. Trust me, I’ve experienced this, and seen it in many others.
Furthermore, I believe there is a lot of credibility to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ Stage Model of Grief. The stages are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. While the way we work through the stages is certainly not linear, these five stages are pretty accurate for most people.
More information on these stages and the issue of grief and loss at: http://www.counselingtoempower.com/grief-therapy.html
Many people are fond of saying “young people today...they just don’t get it”, or “young people today just don’t care”, or “younger folks don’t have the work ethic anymore”, and so on.
Man, I heard this so much when I was young, and these days I hear people my age and older say this sort of thing--A LOT. I say it’s BS.
As a college instructor, I have had the opportunity to work with many students from ages 17 to 75. Over the past eight years, I have seen no noticeable difference in work ethic, drive, motivation, or integrity from one generation to the next.
I’ve also had the opportunity to mentor and work with a wide variety of individuals in the workplace environment. I simply don’t buy into the notion that younger folks are somehow less driven, less honest, or less caring than older folks.
I would say that it IS true that sometimes there are major differences between generations with regard to worldview, values, and so on. So I ask you: to the degree that there are gaps and problems between generations, between older people and younger people, where does the responsibility for bridging these gaps lie?
While everyone can help in this regard, I strongly believe that the ultimate responsibility falls on the elder individual to 1) listen carefully to where the other person is coming from, 2) model understanding and genuine curiosity, and 3) teach the younger individual what one has learned while listening and understanding that this younger individual has things from which an older individual can learn!!
If you are the elder individual in a given situation, I’d encourage you to consider this approach, as it’s amazing how open younger folks are to learning and growth when approached in this fashion.
I also hear people--usually middle age or older--state that “I do things old school”. And yes, I would grant that this may often be a good thing. However, I question ‘old school’ being ‘good school’ when doing things the old school way is an excuse for staying stuck and resisting change when it needs to happen. As legendary coach John Wooden once said (when he was in his 90’s), ‘not all change is progress, but there is no progress without change’.
Don’t get me wrong. I firmly believe that tradition can be a wonderful thing, something that can enrich our culture and our lives. However, when ‘old school’ translates into a stubbornness against change, this holds us back.
In my experience, one of the single most important things we must continue doing in our lives is to learn. It doesn’t matter if we’re 10 or 80, we must be open to learning from life and from others.
When we stop learning, we become stagnant, a state of being that creates anxiety, depression, despair, etc. No one wants this. So, regardless of your biological age, keep listening and learning from others!
I have often been told by instructors and fellow helping professionals to minimize self-disclosure, to be professional, and to remember that the work is all about helping the client.
To a point, I agree with all of that. However, the longer I work as a mental health counselor, the more that I understand the importance of sharing ourselves with those we serve. It helps us to come across as real people to our clients.
As I tell my students, there is a balance to this. As counselors, we must remain professional and ethical, and keep good boundaries with our clients. At the same time, it is important to show our clients that, like them, we are flawed people with our own problems and limitations.
Sharing can take many different forms--we can reveal our likes and dislikes, our challenges, our triumphs, etc. IF doing so is empowering to the client, this can be a very good and therapeutic thing.
A rather bold and high-profile example of this type of self-disclosure was done by Marsha Linehan, the founder of DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, a highly successful model used in particular with highly suicidal and fragile people). Several years back, this tremendously successful therapist disclosed that she was 1) admitted to a psychiatric hospital as a teenager and 2) diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, a highly stigmatized and challenging mental health condition.
This was truly an act of courage. Linehan admits that she thought about doing this for years, but understood that to disclose like this was a risk to her public image and to her career. However, as she put it,
“So many people have begged me to come forward, and I just thought — well, I have to do this. I owe it to them. I cannot die a coward.”
That quote comes from the following article, which talks more about Linehan’s self-disclosure: https://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/23/health/23lives.html?pagewanted=all
Some mental health professionals were concerned about her self-disclosure. In all probability most mental health professionals would not self-disclose in this manner.
My take on it? It’s nothing less than an act of courage, one that has inspired many people struggling with mental health issues in a very positive way. The way I look at it is this: How can be be serious about fighting the stigma around mental illness if we’re not willing to talk about it in our own lives and in the lives of our loved ones?
Linehan’s self-disclosure cuts to the core of our need to de-stigmatize mental illness in American society and around the world. The best way to attack this stigma is to discuss it openly, to shine the light on its’ shadow.
Mental illness is a reality in my life. It runs deep in my family, and has affected me via clinically diagnosable depression and panic attacks. These experiences are a big part of why I do this work.
At some point in their lives, most people state that they’d like to see a mental health therapist. Sometimes, what stops people is that the notion of disclosing our inner thoughts and feelings to a stranger is simply too risky and scary for them.
If you are one of these people, I don’t blame you one bit.
Engaging in counseling, even with a competent, trained professional IS a risk. It involves a certain amount of vulnerability, and for many, this risk seems too great.
However, in my experience, the rewards of finding someone who is a good fit for you can be incredible. I have seen this on both sides of the equation--as a mental health counselor, and as a client.
Some of the many benefits of seeing a mental health professional include:
1. A person to give you an ‘outsider’s perspective’ on your life and challenges
2. A trained professional who can support you in learning new tools and refreshing ways to consider your barriers
3. Someone who can help you maximize the strengths you already have. None of us truly maximize 100% of our potential, but counseling can be a major catalyst for doing so
4. The opportunity to have an interpersonal experience with another human being that is deeply personal and yet is professional (in that this person is not your friend and is bound by confidentiality to keep almost everything you disclose confidential).
In other words, you can have, or at least you SHOULD be able to have, the experience of being very vulnerable and open/honest without being judged.
Don’t underestimate this; according to many research studies over the past few decades, this is perhaps the most important benefit of counseling.
Does this mean that no therapist will ever judge you? Does it mean that they are always professional, supportive, and ethical? Absolutely not. You need to embrace the term “caveat emptor” (buyer beware).
Do your homework when selecting a therapist. There are some good ones, there are some not-so-good ones. Talk with friends. Go to Psychologytoday.com and look over the therapist profiles in your local area.
Moreover, just because a therapist is a solid practitioner does NOT mean they are a good fit for you. Pay attention to the connection between the two of you, in the beginning and throughout the process.
The relationship between the two of you is MOST important. Think about it: if you don’t feel emotionally safe and respected, what are the chances that the therapy will be beneficial? Not good!
See "Part II" for a continuation of this blog entry.
In any case, I’d encourage you to consider the following when looking for and connecting with a therapist:
Do they have a positive, goal-oriented focus? Or does it seem that the counseling has little/no direction?
Are the topics and goals of the session your goals, or the therapist’s ideas and goals for you?
Does your therapist challenge you? A good therapist challenges (in a positive way) and empowers you to be the best person you can be.
Does he/she see you as the expert, capable of coping with your own problems with some help, or do they foster a sense of dependence?
Do they routinely check in with you about how the counseling process is going?
Are you treated as an equal partner in your relationship? Or are you looked down upon?
A solid therapist helps you to clarify your most important personal values and make conscious decisions about living your life in a manner consistent with these values
While this isn’t an all-inclusive list, I hope that this blog helps you to consider the things to look for when choosing a therapist, and encourages you to see one, if indeed you feel the need for support in coping with some of life’s many challenges.
Make no mistake, it can be an amazing, empowering experience!
More on what to expect--and what to ask--of your counselor at: http://www.counselingtoempower.com/expectations-for-counseling.html
In my last blog, I talked about how people think about change, with an emphasis on reconsidering the notion that change is bad, and adjusting our perception in order to better adapt to change.
In particular, I mentioned the common thought pattern known as Catastrophizing, which means 1) fearing a bad outcome and 2) assuming that, if this outcome did occur, the consequences would be awful.I now return to this topic, and I’ll highlight a common scenario in daily life.
Consider the following situation: you are thinking to yourself, “This project isn’t going well. People on my team aren’t coming through and I feel in over my head. Ugh, this is going to be a disaster!”
The moment you notice that you are engaging in this type of thought process, take a step back and consider your train of thought (you may even want to write it down, to externalize it a bit).
Make an estimate of what the chances are that this worst case scenario could happen. Is it 10%? More? Less? Then ask yourself, what is the most likely outcome in this scenario? How likely is this?
Consider what you can do to control the outcome of this scenario, and focus your effort on what you can control. Consider doing one or more of the following:
1. Talk with a friend or loved one about your concerns/fears. Externalizing your worries will usually help, and you’ll likely get support from the other person too, in some form.
2. Mentally try to accept what you cannot control.
3. Consider what you’ll do to cope with result of a worst case scenario. Can you learn or grow from it in some way? Will you survive it? Don’t let it be a mystery; do what you can to quantify this result. In the vast majority of scenarios, you will survive and in fact can usually learn and grow from the experience (even the really painful ones).
4. Go back and focus on what you can control, and do your best to make things work out in the best way possible. If they don’t work out well, at least you can look back and know that you did your best.
If you worry too much about what you cannot control, you won’t spend energy focusing on what you can control. There are few things worse than looking back with regret on a situation, knowing that we could’ve done more to influence an outcome and that we let that opportunity slide away.
As you can imagine, Catastrophizing is a very damaging mental/emotional pattern that generates anxiety, hopelessness, dread, and other associated feelings. The good news is that it is possible to learn a more helpful way to respond to life challenges.
If none of the steps outlined above seem to work, consider seeking professional help from a licensed mental health professional. More information on what to expect in counseling at http://www.counselingtoempower.com/expectations-for-counseling.html
One thing that we know about life is that change is a constant. Something else that we know is that most people tend to resist and even fear change. Why is this? More importantly, is it possible to shift our perception of change?
In my experience, here is what seems to help us have a more functional attitude toward change:
1. Flexibility--a mindset toward life that embraces the reality of change as a constant, and prizes flexibility of attitude and approach as a fundamentally important coping mechanism in order to cope with the changes we face.
2. Acceptance--sometimes changes happen that we have no control over. The Serenity Prayer comes in very handy here. I work with clients who are in recovery from addiction, and (as you may know) this prayer is often-utilized for persons in recovery: The beginning of this prayer goes as follows: God grant me the serenityto accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the differenceThink about this for minute. Applying this in our lives can be a very powerful thing.
3. Courage--let’s face it, it often takes courage to face the unfamiliar. We tend to make assumptions about that which we don’t know, and very often we assume that change will bring negative things.
This makes some sense, because this line of thinking helps us to get ready for bad things that may arise as a result of the change. No one wants to be blindsided by bad events. However, if we only consider the negative or ‘worse case scenario’ in a given situation, this becomes a habit over time, and thus we are destined to live with a lot of anxiety, fear, and negativity.
Our perceptions (and emotions) can become very skewed in a negative direction if we only consider the worst possibility and don’t allow ourselves to consider other possibilities, especially if those other possibilities are in fact more likely to occur.
There is even a name for the thought pattern of considering only the worst case scenario, and acting/living as if it will come true. It’s called Catastrophizing. It usually has two parts:
1. Fearing a very bad outcome2. Concluding that, if this outcome did occur, the consequences would be catastrophic.
You may say “I do that!”. Don’t feel bad, almost everyone does this at times. What I’d encourage you to do if you catch yourself in this type of thinking is to take a step back and engage in an examination of your thought process. Ask yourself if you are being fair and realistic in your thinking. Talk with a trusted friend or loved one about the situation. Ask yourself what you’ll do if the worst scenario happens, and be honest with yourself about how likely it is to actually occur.
In my next blog, I’ll have more thoughts on coping with change in an empowering fashion, with some specific scenarios in mind.
I’ve researched the concept of Motivational Intelligence quite a bit lately.
According to Elaine De Beauport and Aura Sofia Diaz (2002), authors of The Three Faces of Mind: Developing Your Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral Intelligences, having motivational intelligence “means being aware of what moves us and being able to guide what moves us. Just as we use rational intelligence to guide our life through a process of reasoning, we can use motivational intelligence to guide our life through a process of desiring.”
Wow, okay, this seems pretty darn important. So the question then becomes: are you using this to your advantage in life? HOW do we use this to our advantage?
For me, a large part of the answer lies in clarity about our values and principles. How clear are you about what is most important in your life? Are your goals oriented around those things? If not, why not? Chances are, if your activities are not directed toward your strongest values, your motivation will not be very high.
Conversely, alignment of your goals with your highest values will increase motivation significantly. Thus, alertness of our highest values and alignment of these values with our goals goes a long way toward increasing our MI!
For example, I know that one of my highest values is reliability (which I define as doing what I say I’m going to do, and following through consistently). If my daily activities (work, family, etc.) are such that I put myself in situations where I cannot be reliable, it will drive me crazy--believe me, I’ve seen it happen!
On the other hand, if the circumstances in my daily life are such that I’m able to be reliable and empowering to others, this will go a long way toward helping me to feel motivated to accomplish my goals and complete my activities to the best of my ability. Make sense?
Obviously, self-awareness is HUGE in this effort. There are specific things one can do to gain more conscious awareness of our values and principles.
For more information on this, check out: http://www.counselingtoempower.com/personal-values.html
More thoughts on setting goals at: http://www.counselingtoempower.com/goal-setting.html
Finally, more thoughts on the concept of motivational intelligence can be found in this thought-provoking article: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/welcome-world-motivational-intelligence-mi6-joe
I see quite a few people for reasons relating to anger. People come to me wanting to be able to control their anger, to come to terms with it, and/or to learn to forgive and let go of it. Very often, they see their anger as a bad thing, something to be gotten rid of.
I am an advocate of the notion that, in order to channel our anger in a healthy manner, we must be willing to consider that it serves a purpose in our lives. What is this purpose? Does it help us feel powerful, courageous, focused, or motivated? Does it protect us by keeping people at arms length? Or, did it serve a purpose in the past that no longer exists in our present life? These are very important things to consider if we are going to become emotionally healthier.
My point is that anger, in and of itself, isn’t a bad thing. If we can accept its presence, and listen to what it is telling us, rather than fight it, we have a better chance of channeling it in a manner that is healthy instead of damaging.
In fact, when anger is channeled and focused, it can fuel us. At times, expression of this powerful emotion can be natural and helpful. Of course, there is a downside. If not dealt with properly, anger can be habitual, emotionally poisonous, and result in us alienating ourselves from others, even those we love the most.
In short, if you feel that you struggle with managing your anger, I strongly encourage you to work on accepting it, and learn to listen to it and what it’s telling you. That way, you are much better able to channel it in a healthy fashion. Open yourself up to it. This may take the form of journaling, talking with someone about it, or even something like writing poetry.
No question, facing our anger can be scary. Additionally, many of us were taught that it’s not okay to express anger, so to face it, examine it, and express it outwardly is a foreign concept for some. You may find that it’s helpful or necessary to talk with a mental health professional about this. If so, choose wisely and find someone who is a good fit for your personality!
Often we hold onto to anger or resentment because of a past hurt. Is there someone you need to forgive? Are you ready to do that? A wonderful resource on forgiveness--what it is and isn’t--is a book by Archbishop Desmond Tutu called “The Book of Forgiveness” (2014).
If you feel that anger is a problem for you, please work on it. Otherwise this powerful emotion robs is likely to rob you of your peace of mind, happiness, and emotional serenity.
Learn more about channeling your anger energy at:http://www.counselingtoempower.com/tools-for-anger.html
As you’re well aware, many people--perhaps even you--start the year by making resolutions about what they’re going to do (or not do) differently, or better. If you’re one of these people, great. I hope you are able to make the changes you want to make. You already know that these resolutions require persistence, resilience, and focus.
It’s worth adding that they also require some degree of the first thing I’m asking you to consider: patience. Yes, patience.
Without patience, you almost certainly will not possess the perspective needed to reach your goal; that is, unless you made your goal so easy that you could accomplish it right away and without much effort (then again, what is the point of that?).
Patience allows you to re-focus when you have a minor setback, or when you slip up in your efforts. It empowers you to remember that the path to change is almost never easy, that almost anything truly worthwhile takes time and effort. It helps you to have the perspective to see the big picture and stay the course in the midst of discouragement or setback, instead of giving up.
The second quality that I’d strongly encourage you to consider is your values. What are the things you most strongly value in your life? How well does your resolution jive with your values? To the degree that it does, fabulous.
However, many people make resolutions that don’t mesh well with their values. For example, the individual who values putting in extra time and effort at work (or at home) who has now committed to going to the gym four times a week needs to consider the impact of this new commitment on his/her existing values and commitments. Or the person who vows to date more, or be more social, who hasn’t reminded him or herself just how important it is that they have down time to re-charge at the end of the day.
Don’t sabitoge yourself by embracing a resolution that conflicts with your current values. Or, if you do, please consider the ramifications and be willing to modify your values structure if you decide the resolution is truly that important.
I believe that, with these two factors in mind, you’ll empower yourself to be much more likely to follow through and reach your goal (i.e., fulfill your resolution--won’t that feel good?!). Best of luck to you.
More on clarifying one’s personal values at http://www.counselingtoempower.com/personal-values.html
I’m taking a winter break from blogging, at least until sometime in January, and perhaps a bit longer. As 2017 comes to an end, my thoughts go to the value of time--especially the time we spend with others.
Don’t ever take for granted the time you have with others. This may be time you spend teaching, working together on a team or project, time with friends and family, and of course the time you spend learning from others.
Time is finite and thus a precious commodity. Remember this. When teaching and working with others, you get a limited amount of time, so value and honor this time by using it to the best of your ability. Even time spent with friends and family, simply ‘having fun’, is incredibly valuable and also finite. Chances are, when you are in your final days, it’s the time well-spent with others that you’ll remember and treasure the most.
So never take it for granted. Don’t say “we have a whole month...a whole six months together, or….all the time in the world” or whatever. Treasure it, value it, learn and be inspired by others as they hopefully are by spending time with you.
Whether you are a teacher, a student, a friend, a brother, sister, mother, father, son, daughter, etc., please take this to heart. Enjoy the time--the sacred, precious time--spent with others in your life. Learn from them, help them, and appreciate them in whatever way you possibly can. But never, ever take this time for granted. Make it count.
I’ll finish by repeating something I stated earlier in this blog: Chances are, when you are in your final days, it’s the time well-spent with others that you’ll remember and treasure the most. Happy Holidays.