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.
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.
Why is listening so undervalued in our society? It truly baffles me, since it’s obviously such an incredibly important part of human communication.
Since different people may mean different things by this word, I should define listening. For me, listening to others means PAYING ATTENTION to their words and non-verbal communication, with the intent to understand what they are saying or where they are coming from.
In essence, truly listening is an attempt to step into the world of the speaker, and appreciate where they are coming from.
Here are several great reasons to listen to others:
You will almost certainly come to understand them better
You will learn about new viewpoints
You will step outside of your own world. This is especially a good thing if you’re having a rough day, or are in a rough patch in your life at that particular time
If you are having a conflict with someone, and you take the time to listen to where they are coming from, it will almost always help. The other person/people will usually feel more appreciated, heard, and valued, and will (usually) respond by making an effort to listen to your views.
People will generally like and respect you more. They’ll tend to like you more, because you are truly paying attention to what they say and thus, to what they value. They will usually trust and respect you more too, since we all yearn to be heard and valued.
Active listening is an important concept here. It’s something that counselors and therapists teach on a regular basis, and it’s critical in effective communication.
Here are some Active Listening tips that will promote interpersonal harmony (taken from Mindtools.com)
1. Pay full attention--minimize distractions
2. Show the speaker that you are listening. In other words, be totally engaged both verbally and with your body language
3. Provide feedback by paraphrasing and asking questions. This reduces miscommunication
4. Allow the speaker to finish what they are saying before responding. Interrupting the speaker is a recipe for failure.
5. Respond honestly and respectfully
More on active listening at: http://www.counselingtoempower.com/active-listening.html
Finally, I’d encourage you to try this experiment:
For the next two days, use the five principles listed above, as much as humanly possible. After two days, reflect on the difference in the effectiveness of your communication.
If you take me up on this, I'd love to hear back from you. Feel free to send me an e-mail or comment on this post on any of the following social media sites:
Facebook: go to the “Empowerment Counseling Associates” page
Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/gene-obersinner-99a62a53/
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year. By far. Not even close.
It’s my favorite because it reinforces a critically important component of a healthy, happy life--Gratitude.
Not surprisingly, there is a strong correlation between gratitude and happiness.
Many people understand this connection. In their 2016 release “The Book of Joy”, the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu consider Gratitude one of their “Eight Pillars of Joy”.
Here are some great quotes on or closely related to this tremendous virtue.
"If a fellow isn't thankful for what he's got, he isn't likely to be thankful for what he's going to get." Frank A. Clark
"If you want to turn your life around, try thankfulness. It will change your life mightily." Gerald Good
"At times, our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us." Albert Schweitzer
"Be thankful for what you have; you'll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never, ever have enough." Oprah Winfrey
"Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die; so, let us all be thankful." Buddha
"He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has." Epictetus
"When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around." Willie Nelson
"It is impossible to feel grateful and depressed in the same moment." Naomi Williams
"Things turn out best for people who make the best of the way things turn out." John Wooden
Given the strong connection between gratitude and happiness, and the fact that it is indeed hard to feel down when one’s heart is filled with gratitude, why are so many people unhappy?
You may say, and rightly so, that many people live in such adverse conditions that it would be asking an awful lot for them to somehow find happiness. And yet many people who seem ‘poor’ from the outside do find happiness.
Furthermore, there are many people who are quite well off (materially, financially, etc.) who are bitterly unhappy. Why is this? I think gratitude is a common denominator here.
What does this say for you and I? Speaking for myself, I make it a daily ritual to be thankful for specific things in my life. And it makes a big difference.
I encourage you to consider the power of thankfulness and gratitude, and how it can help you be a happier person. My final thought: not only are we happier when we are more thankful, but I believe this rubs off on others too. What a gift this is!
The Lane County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) puts on forums monthly, and this month’s forum is a very compelling one.
WHAT: Navigating the Legal System for People with Mental Health Challenges
WHO: A panel of legal experts based in Lane County, including representatives from the Jail Intercept Mental Health Program, the Oregon .370 program, the Mental Health Court, the Psychiatric Security Review Board, and the Public Defender’s Office.
WHERE: Lane County Behavioral Health, 2411 MLK Jr. Blvd in Eugene (across from the football stadium). Room 198.
WHEN: Wednesday, November 29 from 6:30-8:30 pm
WHY: Because many individuals living with mental health conditions (and their loved ones) feel overwhelmed navigating the legal system. This is a wonderful opportunity to learn the in’s and out’s of Lane County’s legal system from an expert panel!
If you have questions about this event, please contact the NAMI Lane County Resource Center at 541-343-7688.
Note: Support for family members of those living with mental health conditions is available. NAMI Lane County is here to help. If you don’t live in Lane County, NAMI likely has a local chapter in your area or nearby. NAMI’s national chapter can be reached at https://www.nami.org.
For more information about any of the following mental health/relationship issues, check out these pages:
Anxiety & Stress: http://www.counselingtoempower.com/anxiety-and-stress.html
Have you ever been in a situation where someone was acting in a way that seemed to make absolutely no sense at all? You may have left that situation scratching your head, wondering ‘what the heck just happened?’
I know I have. And, as I’ve learned over the years, sometimes, when this occurs, the reason(s) underlying the behavior have to do with trauma that an individual has endured. What I witnessed in that situation that made no sense (on the surface, from an external standpoint) was actually a present-day reaction to past trauma.
As we know, this trauma could be emotional, physical, sexual, or all of the above.
My point is this: if you are with someone, and suddenly they act or react in a way that, on the surface, seems to make no sense at all, please consider the possibility that there could be trauma involved.
In other words, give them the benefit of the doubt. Rather than judge them, have compassion.
Simply put--we don’t know the reasons for someone else’s behavior.
Here are some examples of how this could play out:
BEHAVIOR: Lashing out in anger at seemingly mild behaviors or remarksREASON: The individual’s abuser often said or did the things that the person is reacting to
BEHAVIOR: Refusing to drive at nightREASON: Stalked by someone while driving at night
BEHAVIOR: Demands attention via acting out in ‘negative’ waysREASON: Learned from very early in life that this was the way to get attention
BEHAVIOR: Startles very easily when loud noise occursREASON: Combat veteran, exposed to repeated loud noises under circumstances of extreme stress
BEHAVIOR: Fearful of all people, even when people are kind to themREASON: Suffered abuse at a very early age, grew up believing that people cannot be trusted, and that the more you rely on them, the more you’ll be hurt
BEHAVIOR: Very withdrawnREASON: Learned in childhood that the only way to protect themselves was to run away or be quiet
BEHAVIOR: Acting as though he/she is undeserving of anything goodREASON: Raised by caregivers who constantly criticized them
BEHAVIOR: Craving alcohol/drugs in response to stressREASON: Stress triggers their trauma, which then triggers the desire to numb the overwhelming feelings and pain…and the person didn’t learn adaptive ways to cope
BEHAVIOR: Becomes extremely anxious when aloneREASON: Was victimized while alone; experiences being alone as an unsafe thing
BEHAVIOR: Unwilling to use public restroomREASON: Sexually assaulted in a public restroom
BEHAVIOR: Very argumentative, especially with authority figuresREASON: Abuse from authority figures resulted in extreme suspicion of others, feels speaking out is an effective way to protect him/herself
BEHAVIOR: Goes into panic when unable to unlatch the exit door in a bathroom stall, or when the elevator door opens very slowlyREASON: Was trapped after an accident
For more information, please visit https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK207191/table/part1_ch3.t1/?report=objectonly
Loyalty is such an important quality in life that I’m not sure one can have a truly meaningful life without it.
When I consider the concept of loyalty, I think about the conviction to stand by something or someone that we value greatly, regardless of the cost. It isn’t thoughtless, but comes about over time and from a thoughtful evaluation of our own values and priorities.
True loyalty cannot be blind, if it is, than it’s nothing more than foolishness. We see this type of foolishness all around us on a daily basis.
Loyalty can take various forms. It could be to a cause--do you have something you feel strongly about? Something you’re willing to die for? Loyalty can be to an idea. Ideas can be inspiring. An idea that truly captures what we hold most near and dear is something we can be loyal and dedicated to. What is more virtuous than living according to our most deeply held values?
Martin Luther King Jr. once said “If a man hasn’t discovered something he’s willing to die for, he isn’t fit to live”. That quote has always challenged me and continues to do so. It cuts to the core of true loyalty.
Loyalty can be to a person or group of people, even to an organization. This underscores the importance of considering what we most value in relationships. What’s truly most important to us in our relationships? What types of people do we feel the most loyalty toward? How much do we actively consider this when developing friendships and intimate relationships?
I’ll wrap this blog up with some quotes about loyalty that I believe get to the heart of the matter.
If put to the pinch, an ounce of loyalty is worth a pound of cleverness. Elbert Hubbard
Loyalty cannot be blueprinted. It cannot be produced on an assembly line. In fact, it cannot be manufactured at all, for its origin is the human heart-the center of self-respect and human dignity. It is a force which leaps into being only when conditions are exactly right for it-and it is a force very sensitive to betrayal--Maurice R. Franks
The highest spiritual quality, the noblest property of mind a man can have, is this of loyalty ... a man with no loyalty in him, with no sense of love or reverence or devotion due to something outside and above his poor daily life, with its pains and pleasures, profits and losses, is as evil a case as man can be--Algernon Charles Swinburne
Loyal companions are an unequaled grace, stanching fear before it bleeds you numb, a reliable antidote for creeping despair--Dean Koontz
Be loyal to those who are not present. In doing so, you build the trust of those who are present--Stephen Covey
We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it--Edward R. Murrow
I’m going to jump on my soapbox a bit with this blog.
Why is it, that when people are asked a question, they don’t answer it directly?
Often, in my experience! This is very, very frustrating to me (and many others), and it’s poor communication.
Over the years, I’ve learned to value the qualities of listening carefully to others, answering their questions, and being direct. It’s a matter of respect. And….if I don’t know the answer, I say so. Better to admit what I don’t know then be a phony.
When we don’t answer the question being asked, people will wonder “WHY isn’t (s)he answering my question?” “Hmmm...maybe they didn’t listen closely, or perhaps they are dodging the question.” None of which is good, none of which builds trust or respect.
Communication is such an important aspect of our lives. If you are already diligent about answering questions asked of you, great. If not, I encourage you to consider the importance of this in the context of being an effective communicator.
The first full week of October was Mental Illness Awareness Week. As a board member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Lane County chapter, I’m actively encouraging people to learn about, talk about, and open their minds and hearts to those living with mental health issues.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness is carrying out a program known as “NAMI Ending the Silence”. This is a presentation that teaches middle and high school students about the signs and symptoms of mental illness. In this way, we can help youth be able to understand and recognize the signs of mental illness, so that they are able to ask for help and/or help someone else get the support they need.
It’s all about reducing stigma. The societal stigma around mental illness is profound, and the shame and guilt that it fosters keeps people from coming to terms with their own mental/emotional challenges. We must fight this stigma!
Over the years, I’ve witnessed this horrible stigma.
As an Employment Specialist, I’ve watched this stigma keep employers from hiring qualified applicants.
As a mental health professional, I’ve seen the stigma keep many helping professionals from admitting they have mental health issues in the first place--including doctors, social workers, psychologists, nurses, and more.
I’ve seen this stigma paralyze parents, who were afraid to admit their children were struggling with mental illness, and I've watched it keep family members silent rather than support one another.
This stigma is particularly profound for individuals suffering from SPMI (Severe & Persistent Mental Illness). Conditions such as Schizophrenia, Bi-Polar Disorder, PTSD, and others carry a very damaging stigma that often makes it very difficult for those suffering from these conditions to 1) admit they have them and 2) get the help they need.
Please join me in fighting the stigma around mental illness. We don’t judge someone for having a heart condition, or diabetes, or a brain injury. We don’t ask “How did you get that?” It’s time to look at, accept, and embrace those living with mental illness in the same way.
People often fear what they don’t understand. Let’s talk about it, get educated about it, and educate others.
Let’s listen to those who’ve experienced it, as well as their family members.
NAMI National, NAMI Oregon, and NAMI Lane County do a wonderful job of supporting those living with mental illness and their families. Please join me in supporting their efforts!
Website for NAMI National: www.nami.org/NAMI Oregon: https://namior.org NAMI Lane County: www.namilane.org
Logically, we realize that people are NOT their individual actions. Yet how often do we think this way? We say “He’s such an idiot!” when a more accurate statement may be “That was a dumb thing to do!”We do this to ourselves, too.The next time that you label yourself, ask ‘is that fair?...is it accurate?’ “Maybe I (or someone else) did a dumb thing, but it doesn’t mean I’m a dumb person”Labeling people puts them in a box, and prevents us from being open to the joy and wonder of experiencing people as the complex beings that they are.
You may find that this is such an ingrained habit that you don’t even notice yourself doing this until after the fact. Be persistent and patient with yourself. If you catch yourself doing this, GREAT--even if it is after the fact. Eventually, you’ll catch it while you’re doing it, and even before you do it.
You may want to do something basic, like putting up a few little red tacks around the house to remind yourself to label behavior instead of people. Trust me--this works, people really do things like this in order to help their new habits gain traction! Or perhaps this is something you want to think about at a set time of the day, as a simple routine. Do whatever you need to in order to create a bit more thoughtfulness about it as you go thru your day. With time and persistence, you can make major headway with this.
The end result of labeling behavior instead of people is two-fold.You are more accurately describing the situationYou are less hard on yourself and others, which almost always leads to a greater sense of peace of mind.
Try it out. If you stick with it, you’ll notice an impact on how you see yourself and others!
Depression is the #1 most common mental health diagnosis that I come across in my work. In addition, it one of the most common mental health issues in America, if not THE most. According to nami.org (2016) 6.9% of adults in the U.S.—16 million—had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.
THE BAD NEWS: Depression is a very serious, potentially disabling condition.
THE GOOD NEWS: Depression is treatable. Counseling can and does help many people overcome this disabling condition and resume a healthy life.
But what exactly is Depression, you may ask? Well, let me ask you this: Are you experiencing any of the following symptoms?
Diminished interest in daily activities, Significant weight loss, Increased irritability, Difficulty concentrating, Inability to sleep...or sleeping more than usual, Crying spells, Chronic fatigue or lack of energy, Thoughts about death, or Suicidal Thoughts, or Feelings of Worthlessness.
If you (or someone you love) are experiencing several of these on a regular basis, you may be experiencing depression. Fortunately, a professional counselor can help. Counselors have helped many clients work through their depression and can help you too. Medication helps some people, but not others.
Depression can stem from internal (biological) imbalances, or due to external factors. Additionally, our thoughts are hugely important in this equation. If we think negative thoughts (realistic or otherwise), and these dominate our worldview, it’s absolutely possible to worsen one’s mental health in this manner. The good news, as I’ve said and will remind you, is that depression is treatable.
Individual and group counseling are available. In particular, Cognitive-Behavior Therapy has been shown to be effective in helping people overcome depression. As stated, medications may help (consult with your doctor about this). Diet, exercise, light therapy, acupuncture, meditation, and yoga have all helped numerous people. The point being, there are proven treatments.
The main thing is acknowledgement of the problem and a willingness/openness to do something about it. Please don’t stuff it, and pretend it isn’t there, or pretend you can just ‘suck it up’. This will almost always make things worse, because it’s likely that you are ignoring a message that your mind and body are sending you (that something is wrong and needs to be addressed). Let’s face it, there is still a stigma in our society about having depression. This stigma keeps many people from seeking help in the first place.
All of this points to the need for education and awareness. Depression is a serious and disabling condition, and frighteningly common. Please help spread awareness by talking about it, by educating people about it, or simply by asking questions about it.
Finally, if you are having suicidal thoughts, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline immediately at 800-273-TALK. Locally in Lane County, you may contact the WhiteBird crisis line at 541-687-4000.
Learn more on depression at: http://www.counselingtoempower.com/depression-therapy.html
In this week’s blog, I’d like to address the subject of guilt. More specifically, I’m asking you to take note of how much you ‘should’ yourself.
“What are you talking about?”, you may ask.
I’m talking about the habitual, often unconscious tendency for many of us to tell ourselves “I should’ve done this….I shouldn’t have done that”.
What is the result of this? Usually, guilt.
One key question is this--how helpful is your internal (or external) dialogue? There is no doubt that we can all look at our lives and examine situations where, yes, clearly we should or shouldn’t have done something. And the resulting guilt can actually be helpful provided that we take corrective action.
However, there are just as many--if not more--situations where we tell ourselves that we should/shouldn’t do or have done something, and in reality our thought process is a distortion. In other words, it is unhelpful and in fact inaccurate.
So why do we do this? Usually, out of habit. We’ve seen our parents do it, or we learned to do this because of a painful situation in our lives.
Working as a mental health counselor, I see many people who do this to themselves to the point that they virtually paralyze themselves. They ‘should’ themselves to such an extent that their guilt is not only unhelpful but overwhelming. Sadly, most of the time their thoughts aren’t even completely accurate!
This is where self-reflection can be helpful. You may be asking “I’ve been doing this for years, it’s a habit. How do I untwist my thinking?”I’m glad you asked!
Ask yourself, where do you learn this habit? Is this way of thinking helpful to my growth and development as a person, or is it holding me back and saddling me with unhelpful guilt and shame? Are my thoughts even accurate?
Take a look at this list of “Ways to Untwist Your Thinking”. It’s simple and helpful. http://www.bpdrecovery.com/untwist-your-thinking. Or simply Google “Ways to Untwist Your Thinking”, in which case you’ll see dozens of similar lists. Pick one that you like.
Challenge yourself. Be more perceptive of your thought patterns, especially in situations where you find yourself feeling guilty. Write your thoughts out, or talk with a professional about them. Cognitive-Behavior Therapy is a wonderful model where you can systematically examine, break down, and change your habitual thought patterns. It works, I’ve seen it work--in my own life and with clients.
So I ask you, how much do you “Should” on yourself?
More thoughts about guilt on my web page: http://www.counselingtoempower.com/guilt.html
More information about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be found at: https://www.beckinstitute.org/get-informed/what-is-cognitive-therapy/
I recently finished reading “The Book of Joy” by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In this amazing book, they discuss something they call “The Eight Pillars of Joy”. These are: Perspective, Gratitude, Acceptance, Humility, Humor, Compassion, Forgiveness, Generosity.
In particular, I am amazed at the transformative power of two of these pillars: Compassion and Gratitude.
I use the word transformative very deliberately here. As I’ve seen in my own life and in others, when we deliberately cultivate these two qualities, we find our lives changing and transforming in a powerful way. The intentional cultivation of gratitude creates a very healthy sense of well-being and peace, especially when this is done consistently, as a routine, over the long term.
As stated in this book, “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 is 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”. In other words, gratitude gives us balance in our lives. In my experience, it’s one of the healthiest things that we can cultivate in ourselves and the world.
Compassion is equally important and transformative. They quote psychologist Paul Gilbert who says “compassion can flow naturally when we understand and work to remove our fears, our blocks, and our resistances to it. Compassion is one of the most difficult and courageous of all our motivations, but is also the most healing and elevating”.
Healing of what? Our anger, fear, resentment, and our tendency to get overly wrapped up in our own well-being. Obviously, forgiveness (another of the eight pillars) is closely related. Letting go of our anger and resentment requires forgiveness, but I would argue that the cultivation of compassion--which involves an appreciation for the plight of others--helps immensely with this task.
To be sure, this isn’t easy. As Tutu puts it, “It takes time. We are growing and learning how to be compassionate, how to be caring, how to be human”.
Even thinking or meditating quietly for 5-10 minutes a day in a manner that involves wishing others well, that they be free of their suffering (or at least find solace within it), and that they find peace and joy is very healthy and can cultivate a strong sense of compassion over time.
When I look at people, I see a strong correlation between their overall sense of happiness and the amount of compassion and gratitude in their lives. That says a lot to me.
However, the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu explain this much more thoroughly than I do. I highly recommend this book!
More on the Pillars of Joy can be found at: http://www.beliefnet.com/inspiration/the-eight-pillars-of-joy.aspxI discuss this and other recommended books at: http://www.counselingtoempower.com/book-reviews.html
Thank you for your willingness to read this blog. Suicide is a topic that our society is very uncomfortable talking about. It’s a reality and tragedy that has profoundly influenced my own life, having lost immediate family to suicide as well three clients over the years.
Because suicide is an ever-present reality in our world, it’s very, very important to raise awareness about it and to talk about it. Because of my own connection with suicide, I feel strongly about promoting awareness of the nationwide suicide prevention efforts, and to invite you to join--in your own large or small way--in the effort.
September 10-16 is National Suicide Prevention Week. There are many activities happening all over the country. For more information on these, go to https://afsp.org/campaigns/national-suicide-prevention-week-2017/.
If you are interested in learning simple, basic tools for supporting individuals who are feeling depressed and possibly suicidal, there is a wonderful (and free) training called QPR. This training provides individuals with simple, powerful ways to help individuals who are in crisis get the support they need. Here in Eugene-Springfield, these two-hour trainings are typically offered a few times per year via PreventionLane, a wonderful set of programs within Lane County Public Health.
For information on upcoming training, go to http://www.preventionlane.org/mh-suicide-trainingsFor more information on QPR training in general, visit https://www.qprinstitute.com/about-qpr
I must emphasize that anyone can learn how to be a valuable support for an individual who is pondering suicide, these skills are basic and--more than anything--require a willingness to listen, to be compassionate, and to refer people to the right resources for help. That’s what QPR is all about. Thank you in advance for your willingness to help in whatever way you feel is right for you and your loved ones!
#stopsuicide #suicideprevention #suicideawareness #mentalhealthawareness
The Lane County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has been organizing and hosting monthly panels on various compelling and relevant issues that affect the mental health of our community, and in many cases, the nation. They are held on the fourth Wednesday of the month in the evening at Lane County Behavioral Health--the exact information is provided below.
On September 27, NAMI Lane County hosts the panel event that will address the mental health needs of senior citizens in our community. Please come and join us as we discuss supporting seniors that are coping with aging and mental health issues!
Here is the post itself:
How can we better support seniors afflicted with both aging and mental health challenges? Come hear about resources available in Lane County from our knowledgeable speakers panel:
Senior and Disability Services—Leslie GilbertMcKenzie Living--Tina BeckerLane County Older Adult Behavioral Health--Kay McDonald
When: Weds., Sept 27 • 6:30 - 8:30 pm
Where: Lane County Behavioral Health Services, Rm. 198 Address: 2411 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in Eugene
For Further Information: Call: NAMI Lane County Resource Center (541) 343-7688
I have been blogging for over a year now. Sometimes I have difficulty feeling inspired. This week has been one of those weeks. I’ve thought about different possibilities, but no subject has inspired me to blog. Today I finally thought, ‘I’m making this too complicated, I should write about what is in my heart and on my mind’.
Thus, I decided to write about two very important things that are areas of learning and growth for me and many others: Love and Friendship. And, I don’t know exactly why, but for some reason a poem seemed appropriate.
So here is a poem that I spontaneously thought up, followed by several quotes addressing the importance and virtue of friendship. The poem comes from the heart, I hope you like it.
It seems to me That of all the things we could beThough there are many things of which life may consistBeing a loving friend is still at the top of the list
Showing mutual love and concernFor true and lasting friendship I yearnAccepting the good and bad, the up and the downBeing there whether my friend has a smile or frown
And knowing he’ll be there for meBecause friendship is give and take you seeAlthough there are many things in life I want to be and doI want most of all to be a good friend through and through
Finally, here are a few quotes on friendship that I find very true and inspiring. I hope you find them valuable as well!
There is nothing on this earth to be more prized than true friendship--Thomas Aquinas
If you want to find out who is a true friend, screw up or go through a challenging time, then see who sticks around--Unnamed
"When it hurts to look back, and you're afraid to look ahead, you can look beside you and your best friend will be there."--Unknown
A friend is someone with whom you dare to be your true self--Unnamed
These final quotes are from one of my heroes, the late UCLA basketball coach John Wooden (who incidentally was voted Coach of the 20th Century by almost all of the major sporting publications in America):
Make friendship a fine art
Friendship is two-sided. Someone isn’t being a friend just because they’re doing something nice for you; that’s someone being a nice person. There’s friendship when you do for each other. It’s like a marriage--it’s two-sided.
Love is the most important word in the English language
I witness a lot of disagreements these days. Some of them occur in a session (between family members), some in my daily life, and many, many of them online--especially in social media. Politics in particular tend to spark these, now perhaps more than ever before.
I’m sure you’ve heard it. Those stupid liberals, those stupid conservatives...and on it goes. These are curious statements, since “liberals” and “conservatives” are as much different from one another as they are similar.
I’m going to ask you to consider something.
If you disagree with someone about something, please ask them to explain their point of view. Then truly listen. Resist the temptation to make your points until you’ve truly listened to them. Give them the benefit of the doubt, instead of assuming they are stupid or ignorant. Chances are that a couple of things will happen:
1. You will learn something by listening to their point of view. It’s very likely that you’ll learn things you didn’t know, and obtain a wider perspective, or perhaps you will realize that your own point of view is indeed valid for you and that you don’t need to agree (or even respect) their reviews...but hey, you listened to them! You gave the other person a chance. In my experience, you’ll usually widen your own perspective on the issue at hand.
2. Also, the other person or people are more likely to respect you and thus listen to what you have to say. Note that I say ‘more likely’, as we obviously can’t control the actions of others.
These are very powerful concepts, and this isn’t some abstract dreamworld notion. I’ve seen this play out many times in my own life and by watching others do this. And….on the other hand, if I’m honest I certainly have gotten caught up in the ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’ trap too. I like the former scenario much more than the latter!
In any case, if we truly listened to each other….wow. The difference that it would make in our relationships, with our friends and family, and in our society. I’ve seen relationships completely turn around because of this.
Whatever you do, please think through the effect of what you are going to say before you say (or write) it. Is it going to help anyone, or will it be hurtful? Is it going to open minds or simply cause people to dig in even further?
More thoughts on listening, giving people the benefit of the doubt, and related matters at http://www.counselingtoempower.com/paying-attention.html.
One thing we know for sure is that change is inevitable. At a basic level, we all are born, live some length of time, and die. Looking a little deeper, we can see that we are constantly changing--physically, mentally, in our relationships, spiritually, and in our career. The change may seem quite slow at times (to the point that we feel that it’s happening at a glacial pace), or it may seem that everything is changing, all at once.
The key in all this may be in how we view the changes we are going through, and how we view change itself. Is it an opportunity? A setback? A challenge? A wonderful thing? Something to be feared?
Some changes do tend to ‘happen to us’, and we have minimal or no control over them, while many other events occur at least in part because of our influence--our actions and behavior. Either way, how we view these changes is critical to our well-being.
Many famous and wise people have talked about this.
Gandhi said “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”.
Nelson Mandela spoke about change in this way: “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears”. I interpret that as encouragement to change our lives by moving toward what we want, not running away from what we don’t. Most of the time, that’s great advice.
Maya Angelou said it this way “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude”.
Finally, Albert Einstein cautioned people to be open to changing their behavior when he said this: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. I see people do this (and I’ve done it too), because of their fear of change. This usually produces something even more scary--regret. No-one wants that.
In any event, how we view change is very important in determining our overall well-being. How do you view it?
In this blog, I’m highlighting Cornerstone Community Housing, a Lane County agency whose mission is this: Cornerstone Community Housing is committed to building quality, affordable housing for people living on limited incomes and offering services that promote opportunities for personal growth and economic independence.
For the past 25 years, CCH has been building high quality housing in collaboration with local neighborhoods, and has been instrumental in revitalizing communities in this area.
The agency is a very effective force for networking the local social service community, bringing together 50-100 agencies during the year in order to deliver more than 25 different on-site programs! An example of this is that each year CCH distributes around 100,000 lbs of food through FOOD for Lane County’s Extra Helping program, 10,000 summer meals to children through the Summer Food and Cereal for Youth Programs.
I recently met with Carrie Copeland, Program Director. Carrie manages the Resident Services Program as well as the Health and Housing teams. She says that “We prioritize prosperity”, adding that CCH is very involved in in the Community HealthImprovement Plan (CHIP).
CCH is in the process of establishing a tenant leadership program for tenants, with a goal of developing a cadre of tenants who can assist and empower other tenants toward asset and community building with a focus on advocacy for program that support safety net programming.
In terms of their clientele, about 40% are considered to be part of the working poor,50% are either seniors or persons with disabilities, and 10% are either self-employed, un-employed or receiving TANF support (Temporary Aid to Needy Families, a federal aid program.) CCH does house some people coming off the streets, but that is not their focus—their properties are multi-family units that serve a mixed population.
CCH uses evidence-based techniques that are in line with SAMHSA’s 8 dimensions of wellness. (https://www.samhsa.gov/wellness-initiative/eight-dimensions-wellness)
They are a relatively small agency, with 10 paid staff which include Resident Service Coordinators, a Community Health Worker, a Family Resource Navigator as well as a small admin staff, volunteers and interns.
For more information on this wonderful agency, or to volunteer and/or make a donation, please visit http://www.cornerstonecommunityhousing.org/.
I hope these inspire you as much as they have me over the years.
“Let your smile change the world but don’t let the world change your smile”
The older I get, the more true this one is for me. We have to be strong enough to not allow the cynics and nay-sayers to shoot our ideas down and dampen our attitude.
“Don’t worry about failures. Worry about the chances you miss when you don’t even try”
As someone who looks at most ‘failure’ as a setback, I try to keep this one in mind. In fact, if I was overly worried about failure, I never would’ve asked my wife out (26 years ago), as I was pretty sure she’d say ‘no’. The thing was, I also couldn’t stand the thought of missing out on what could happen if she said ‘yes’.
“You learn more from failure than success. Don’t let it stop you. Failure builds character.”
Many people have said some version of this quote. When I look at my own life, and the lives of people I’ve known, it’s clear to me just how true this is. A great many people feel that their greatest setbacks have also been some of their best catalysts for positive change in life.
“Let no man pull you low enough to hate him” MLK Jr
I’ve learned this one the hard way. Hate drags us down, makes us bitter, and destroys us emotionally. I’ve learned from some very wise--and very forgiving--people that channeling our anger, frustration, etc. into a goal that will make a positive difference is highly preferable for my emotional and spiritual health. I suspect this is true for most people.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” Maya Angelou”
Very true, in my experience. It’s not that people will necessarily forget what you said or did, but they absolutely remember how you made them feel!
“Talent is God-given, be humble. Fame is man-given, be grateful. Conceit is self-given, be careful” John Wooden
This quote helps me stay humble, and there is a lot of wisdom in it. I meditate on this one quite a bit.
Many people--including many mental health professionals--are coming out with warnings and negative comments about the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. For me, it is a mixed bag.
What I like about this documentary: It brings sexual violence and substance abuse to the forefront. It also raises the issue of consent (in sexual encounters) in a major way, and in general puts a HUGE spotlight on the issue of sexual assault. This is a very good thing, something our society needs to talk and do a lot more about.
What I dislike about it: This documentary demonstrates a way to commit suicide that makes a strong personal statement, as a way to ‘get back’ at people. For people who are pondering suicide, the temptation to be swayed by this factor can be large, and the consequences permanent. It’s easy to see this example as the ultimate “F$% you” to those left behind. As a mental health professional who has worked with many people in despair and crisis, this is very misguided and unwise.
I also don’t like that the creators didn’t discuss depression at all, nor does the documentary talk about mental illness. By not doing this, the creators missed an opportunity to shed light on issues that are prevalent throughout all levels of our society.
In summary, I found 13 Reasons Why compelling, with some strong points. However, I’m very concerned about some of the messages it gives. Suicide should never be portrayed as a way to get revenge. This show essentially portrays a suicide revenge fantasy (I say ‘fantasy’ since after all, it is a story, not real life).
The National Alliance on Mental Illness has come out with a statement about this documentary. Here is NAMI’s statement on it, as well as links to excellent resources for teenagers at risk: https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/May-2017/13-Reasons-Why%E2%80%9D-Hurts-Vulnerable-Teens
An article that does a good job of capturing many of the biggest concerns is this one: http://www.self.com/story/13-reasons-why-suicide-and-mental-healthThis article discusses best practices for portraying suicide in a media context. It’s interesting that 13 Reasons Why violates most of the best practices.
Something else to know--Hannah Baker’s suicide is quite graphic, as are several other scenes in the 13 episodes (scenes of sexual assault and physical violence). If you do watch it, be prepared for this.
Parents: If your teenager wants to watch it, don’t forbid them. In fact, I would strongly recommend that you watch it WITH them, so that you can be there to support them and talk about it. Be sure to watch the afterward--especially if you don’t like the show or think it’s misguided. It is 26 minutes and gives some helpful context to the story.
Finally, I’ve noticed that several health professionals-- as well as people in general--have been highly critical of this show, but then admit that they haven’t watched it. Ugh! Don’t judge what you haven’t seen!
I've been called a realist, even a pessimist, by my co-workers and supervisors. I’ve never been one to see life with rose colored glasses.
This may surprise some of you, who are used to the relatively upbeat tone that I use in most of my blog posts. And make no mistake, I'm very genuine in all of my posts.
It’s not that I don’t try. I want to believe that life is good, that people are good, and that things are looking up and only going to get better. However, I HATE being disappointed, and I also hate having false hope. Even more so, I cannot stand giving other people false hope--something I’m very careful not to do with clients and those I supervise.
I’d much rather be realistic about what’s coming, and then try to do my best to improve the circumstances, to focus on that which I can control, and do the best that I can.
I’ve been reading a wonderful book entitled “The Book of Joy”. This book is all about the wonderful love and friendship between two very special people: Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. What I’m learning from these two incredibly wise human beings is that it’s not only possible to have joy in a world full of despair and suffering, but it’s a really good idea to do so. This book goes into HOW to do that, and I’m learning some valuable lessons from it (not done reading it yet, but very encouraged so far).
One of the best things I’ve learned (or been reminded of) from this book is that the more we chase joy and happiness, the more elusive it can be. However, when we focus on truly doing our best to help others and make the world just a bit better, it comes back to us. Nothing big, just small acts of service, done with a good and honest intent.
I’m learning that genuine friendship is based to a very great extent on trust. Of course, trusting others makes us vulnerable, which is something that many of us would do almost anything to avoid! So I’m trying to live more fully, open myself up to the blessings—and hardships—of relating genuinely to other people.
Wish me luck. It’s not easy to do. But I’m getting there, in my human and very flawed way. I certainly would encourage you to consider your own concept of joy and happiness, and how you view service to others as being connected to this.
I hear a lot of people describe their mistakes and shortcomings as failures. Worse yet, I hear people use ‘failure’ to describe the situation when they are anything less than 100% perfect.
Whew! Failure is a word that implies finality. It’s over, finished, no way to learn from it, turn it around, or improve. However, many times, when people use this word, what they’re really talking about is a setback.
Examples: I messed up on that test...I’m such a failureI botched that presentation. I really failed in front of everyone. I screwed up on that project at work. What a total failure!
Often we go beyond describing these events as a failure--we label ourselves as a failure. Ugh! This is so damaging to our view of life and our self-esteem.
Failure, in the way I hear most people describe it when they are upset, implies we cannot learn from it, cannot grow from it, nor can we ever change the outcome. While there are certain situations in life that fall into that category, I find it interesting how often people use this word to describe events that aren’t final, that in fact are quite temporary, and/or can be great learning experiences going forward.
In other words, they’ve had a setback. Aren’t setbacks some of the greatest learning experiences in life? Painful, yes, but they are tremendous opportunities.
Setback is something that is temporary, something that we can learn from, in order to do better the next time we get a similar opportunity. In my view, most of the time people talk about failure, they’re really talking about setback. Is this true for you?
Over time, human services educators are realizing (more and more) the fundamental importance of emphasizing self-awareness and self-care to our students. Many of us were educated in programs where, for one reason or another, this wasn’t emphasized very much.
Historically, some human services schools and agencies have placed a good deal of importance on this issue, while others have not. Many of us were taught that it’s a good idea, but were not taught HOW to practice effective, healthy self-care.
For many helping professionals, the mindset has been that we help others--those less fortunate, those who are stigmatized, those with various problems (mental health or otherwise)--and that this must be our focus. Our own health and well-being? This is often an afterthought. While there are many professionals who do indeed practice good self-care, there are even more (in my experience) who put themselves on the backburner. For many, considering the notion of self-care creates a sense of guilt and thoughts of being selfish. The fact of the matter is this: in order to put our best effort into helping those we serve, we MUST take care of ourselves. If we don’t do this, we’re kidding ourselves.
If the idea of self-care creates guilt and anxiety, I’d invite you to do some significant introspection. Consider seeing a counselor to work on these thoughts and feelings. Doing so will help you be that much better as a helper.
Consider this:Focusing on ourselves and neglecting others = SelfishFocusing on others and neglecting ourselves = BurnoutPrioritizing our own wellness in order to be at our best to care for others = Balance
So much of human behavior is habitual. Therefore, routines are crucial when it comes to self-care. As I’ve conveyed to my students over the years, it’s a bit like weeding our garden. Having balance and a healthy mindset takes ongoing work. It’s something that needs to be part of our daily/weekly routine.
Obviously, different things work better for different individuals. The main thing is to find something that works most of the time and stick with it. In addition, it’s important that we learn ways to deal with being triggered by the work that we do, AND to be honest enough with ourselves to admit that we’ve been triggered by something or someone.
I feel strongly that healthy self-awareness and self-care are the most important components of a successful helping professional. For more thoughts on this subject, check out my page at: http://www.counselingtoempower.com/self-care-for-helpers.html
As a middle-class white man, as an instructor, as a counselor who works with survivors of sexual assault...
I view sexual violence as a HUGE problem in our society today.
THIS IS NOT OKAY, it never has been. It never will be. Thousands of women and men are victims of sexual violence every year. This causes emotional, spiritual, and psychological damage that is profound and far-reaching. As someone who works with adults who have experienced sexual assault/abuse (children and/or as adults), I have witnessed just how destructive the impact can be. It’s devastating in a way that’s hard to describe.
Imagine suffering from an experience that changes your entire perception of the world around you--from one of safety to one of suspicion and mistrust. For adults, it changes an established worldview--permanently. For children who are victims, it forms this worldview, and teaches them what the world is like.
On the whole, our culture understands that child sexual abuse is a very bad thing. However, when it comes sexual violence directed at adults, there are sectors of our society that persist in maintaining a tolerant view of the conditions that lead to sexual violence.
Examples of this ‘cultural tolerance’ include:
Victims not being taken seriously when they report rapes to authority figures--in my experience, this is true for both male and female victims
Assuming that false reporting for sexual assault cases are the norm, when in reality, they’re only 2-8%. I hear this one quite a bit, and it flies in the face of a reality where the overwhelming majority of people are telling the truth OR are in fact keeping silent because they’re fearful of the consequences (at work, at home, or fear of being re-traumatized by reporting the assault)
Only 3% of rapists ever serve a day in jail.
10% of married woman will be raped sometime during their marriage
1-in-5 women and 1-in-71 men having reported experiencing rape
(sources for the examples listed above: https://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/SV-DataSheet-a.pdf) http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/03/examples-of-rape-culture/
When you add drugs and/or alcohol to this mix--you have a recipe for disaster.
For my fellow men: You are particularly important in broadcasting this message. Since men statistically commit more acts of sexual violence, it’s very important that we send a message--to other men and women too--that sexual violence is unacceptable. Furthermore, joking about it or condoning it is unacceptable.
Our attitudes and behaviors will go a long way toward pushing the needle on this vitally important issue.
For more information and ways to get involved, check out https://www.ncadv.org/files/Domestic%20Violence%20and%20Sexual%20Abuse%20NCADV.pdf
If you wish to volunteer and/or get involved in this area, and you live in the Eugene/Springfield area, you can check out the Trauma Healing Project or Sexual Assault Support Services. These agencies also offer fantastic resources for survivors of sexual violence.
In April, I joined the Board of Directors of the Lane County Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. This wonderful organization addresses many aspects of mental health and mental illness (locally, statewide, and nationally--there is a NAMI Oregon and a national NAMI as well).
NAMI is dedicated to the support, education, and advocacy of individuals living with mental health conditions.
Another major aim of NAMI is to combat the terrible stigma that exists around mental illness, in order to break down barriers--societal and attitudinal--toward addressing this problem. #stigmafree
More specifically, NAMI Lane County provides the following:
A resource library that has many different materials on mental health and mental illness. NAMI is also a great place to learn about community resources that can support persons with mental illness
Education and support groups and meetings that provide help and support for family members and friends of persons living with mental health issues
Advocacy around legislation in order to further the interests of persons living with mental illness and for their families
Groups and services to support individuals in coping successfully with various types of mental health challenges
Speakers that provide education and information for the larger community on the issues surrounding mental health and mental illness
They do much more than this: go to: www.namilane.org for more!
Make no mistake, NAMI provides services that are indispensable for persons living with mental illness AND for their families.
It was in fact founded by family members of persons struggling with mental illness, as a way to address the lack of education, services, and support for people living with such conditions.
I know of very few organizations that provide as many great services for such a low cost! To learn more about NAMI at a national level, go to https://www.nami.org/Learn-More
Most of us are sick and tired of politicians (and other authority figures) who will not admit they’ve messed up, and instead point the finger at someone else. This angers us for good reason. But how often do we do this ourselves, in our own lives?
I will admit that, while I’m much better at taking responsibility for my shortcomings than I used to be, I still catch myself in denial or trying to defend myself for the sake of being correct or right, or being perceived as such. And sometimes it’s hard for me to let go!
It’s unfortunate that we human beings have a hard time with this. Many of us were taught, early on in life that being wrong was a very bad thing, and it made us vulnerable, perhaps even ashamed and embarrassed. For most of us, there are few things worse than shame and embarrassment! You may also have been taught that perfection is the goal, and that perfectionism is a good thing (something I disagree with profoundly, but that’s another blog!).
However, not being able to accept our faults also means not being able to learn and grow. Growth is the stuff of life. I don’t know about you, but I can state without any doubt that my biggest screw-ups have usually produced some of my biggest learning experiences in life.
Therefore, our concept of being wrong and what that means is something worth putting some thought into. If you are like many of the rest of us, and have issues with making mistakes and being ‘wrong’, I invite you to reconsider your definition of perfection and mistakes.
Ask yourself: would I rather be right or would I rather be happy? This is a question worth pondering whenever we’re having a hard time admitting we are wrong or made some type of mistake.
It’s probably no accident that the happiest people I know are also people who are willing to admit their mistakes and to learn and grow from them!
In this blog, I want to talk just a bit more about supervisors, and more so, about mentors.
Many of us accept jobs/positions in which supervision of others is part of the job. Some supervisors embrace this role, others do not. However, as I’ve said before, if you supervise others, make it a priority! Your supervisees need you (please refer to the last blog if you want more of my thoughts on that).
However, I’d like to highlight something perhaps even more impactful: mentorship. This can happen in many different forms, and regardless of our age or life experience, we can mentor or be mentored at many points in our lives.
Being a mentor usually implies that 1) someone looks up to us, learns from us, and models at least some of their behavior after us, whether or not we are aware of it, or 2) spends time with us and, over time, comes to admire us in some significant way.
What an honor, and what a responsibility! For those of us that are aware we are mentoring others, we must embrace it and do our best to be the best we can be, and act in a way that continues to inspire them.
Sometimes you can be both mentor and supervisor, as it’s common for supervisors to turn into mentors, in the sense that (over time) they come to be seen as such by those they supervise. But often mentors are someone who offer us support, or an example to follow, or we ask them for guidance and they take us up on it. Often the mentorship evolves slowly, over time.
In any case, mentorship can be life-changing. Be open to being mentored. Inspiring people are all around us--we don’t ever have to know the mentor personally in order to be mentored (think about Abraham Lincoln or Mother Teresa, for example). The mentors I have had in my life have been instrumental in shaping the person I am today.
MENTORING HAS INCREDIBLE POWER AND INFLUENCE. And it’s a privilege. I’ll wrap this up with a quote from A Gameplan For Life: The Power of Mentoring by (Coach) John Wooden.
Coach stressed that mentoring didn’t have to be a formal process or relationship. As he explained it, anytime we provide an example to someone else, we are being a mentor to that person. This might be a formalized mentoring program, or simply offering a considerate word or gesture. Wooden provided examples to others of ways we all can be a little kinder, think a little further beyond ourselves and make our world a little better.
Since Wooden is widely known as having been incredibly happy, as well as a mentor for hundreds of people in many walks of life, these are valuable words!
For more on Coach Wooden and mentoring, check out the book I referenced above or this article: https://www.thewoodeneffect.com/a-mentor-never-dies/
As the 2016-17 academic year comes to an end, I find myself very thankful about having the incredible opportunity to educate and mentor other people for another year. At Lane Community College, this includes students from 17-70 years of age, from many different sectors of our society!
I’ll miss the students who are leaving, and it’s quite likely I won’t be returning to LCC after this term (for reasons I won’t go into). So I’m a bit sad, too. But more than anything, I’m happy and am honored to have interacted with and influenced so many good people’s educational lives!
In addition, I currently supervise 11 counselors working toward their counseling license. The bonds that are formed in a professional relationship like this are pretty amazing; it’s wonderful to have such an important presence in another mental health counselor’s career. It’s also a big responsibility, one that means a lot to me.
Now I come to the main point of this blog: If you supervise someone, or if you are a mentor for someone, take it very seriously.
This person depends on you.
Don’t say some BS like “I’m too busy to supervise”. If you supervise others, this must be a top priority. It’s disheartening to see how many employees flounder--or get away with murder--because of absent supervisors (meaning they give insufficient time to this part of their job).
How important is this? Do you know what the #1 factor in determining whether or not human services professionals in the USA like their job is? The quality of the relationship that they have with their supervisor!
On the other hand, being mentored (or supervised by someone really solid) is a special opportunity. If you know someone from whom you feel you could learn a lot (personally OR professionally), ask them if you could spend some time with them! In other words, if you have an opportunity to be mentored, don’t pass it up. You’ll reap the benefits in your life!
If you have a desire to mentor others, do some introspection. If you honestly feel that you set a good example for others (in terms of helping others) and live according to what you believe is right, look around in your community--mentoring opportunities abound in most communities, and it’s a great way to contribute to the well-being of society.
A great book on this subject is Coach John Wooden’s A Game Plan for Life: The Power of Mentoring: In this fantastic book, Coach Wooden discusses seven individuals who have mentored him in a meaningful way, and has contributions from seven others who consider Wooden to be a mentor of theirs. More on this book at: http://www.counselingtoempower.com/book-reviews.html
NEXT BLOG: More on supervisors, mentors, and the difference between the two
I’ve been reading Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ final book, written just before she died. It’s entitled On Grief and Grieving, which is a spin off on the title of her original book On Death and Dying. This book is an incredibly useful tool for those going through grief and loss.
Kubler-Ross and co-author David Kessler guide us through the Five Stages of Grief (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance), discuss the inner and outer worlds of grief, talk about particular types of losses, and grapple with our societal views about this subject.
I love that this book openly addresses societal attitudes about grief and loss as part of the barrier for many people who are coping with this issue.
In my own work and life, I have certainly witnessed many people--including myself--suffer from mental/emotional paralysis as they try to cope with grief.
Finally, Kubler-Ross talks about her own journey with grief, as she comes to terms with her impending death.
This is a truly useful and inspiring book, one that I strongly recommend for anyone who is coping with grief and loss, and the sometimes overwhelming emotions and circumstances that accompany it.
In wrapping up my blog series about depression, I want to discuss counseling in a bit more depth. Your choice of a counselor is crucial. I list some things to look for at the bottom of my homepage: www.counselingtoempower.com.
As you ponder whether or not to share your problems with a professional, I want to address the long-standing myth that surrounds mental health counseling: seeking help for your problems is a weakness.
What simplistic baloney. It’s a wise person that understands that we can’t solve all of our problems on our own. Nor should you expect that you can. Asking for help is strength, not weakness. Yes, it makes you somewhat vulnerable, because you have to share your problems with another human being. However, seeing a counselor who is a good match for you can be one of the most helpful and powerful experiences in your life. I know; I’ve had the privilege of seeing it work many times.
Some of the other treatment strategies for depression that work for many people include the following:
Light Therapy--these are often referred to as ‘mood lights’ or ‘sad lights’ (for seasonal affective disorder). Many people use them, including me. However, you should do some research before investing in one. More on this at: http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/seasonal-affective-disorder-bring-on-the-light-201212215663
Support Groups--these groups work for some, and not for others. I invite you to introspect a bit about this possibility. If you feel like you’re the only one going through your problems, I’d encourage you to consider whether or not a support group could be helpful. One of the best aspects of groups is that you get to learn about other people going through similar problems. Regardless of how much you decide to share in the group, this is a very powerful thing. The skill and demeanor of the facilitator is hugely important, so if possible consider going to one session before fully committing (Note: some groups will require a multi-session investment up front).
Meditation and/or Yoga--again, these approaches work for some. If you are in need of peace and solitude in order to balance your mind and work through your thoughts, these methods can be very helpful and are time-tested. Obviously, there are many different approaches to both. Some good information on both can be found at: http://www.yogajournal.com/