It has been an embarrassingly long time since I have sat down to reflect and write in this space. Michael and I have been spending most of our time providing therapy to some incredible couples over the past few months. Time flies when we are working together… it is such a privilege to do this work.
Something we keep running into time and time again is the myth that when couples enter therapy the past wounds will be covered with immediate action like homework. Clients are eager to ask for the next task but the work is a little harder to spot and it certainly cannot be checked off a to do list.
The work lies often in holding both realities. The reality that the relationship is being worked on and will improve and the reality of the damage that has been done. Part of repair then is being able to sit with your partner in those tense moments when one or both of you lacks confidence in the relationship. Having compassion for one another and being able to see that the past hurt is just as real as the new future you are creating together.
The magic ingredient is not letting those moments set you back. Instead have confidence that this uncomfortable space of rehashing isn’t the past argument, it is a new conversation because it now exists in the context of working on the relationship. Rehashing for couples before therapy often happens in the context of “will we stay together” or “is this relationship healthy for me/us.”
Can you hold both the past hurt and the desired future just long enough to start to see it change?
Remember, change in humans is the same as a growing plant. It is hard to detect until you look for it.
I used to think self-care was quiet time or that I could feel restored after a long night of interrupted sleep.
As a new therapist you are encouraged to “practice self-care” as it can be a shock to the system to begin this work. So my first several years as a therapist were spent seeking quiet solitude, watching movies, or attempting to ensure 9 hours of sleep as often as possible.
However, as I enter into 2018 I have drawn a new conclusion about what practicing self-care looks like… at least for myself.
- Self-care is actually found in adventure.
- Restoration is found in sleepless nights in the wilderness and bumpy flights to foreign lands.
- Caring for myself means shaking off the limits that seem to settle on me like dust on trail runs and ski slopes.
- A restorative night can be found staying up late connecting and catching up with loved ones.
- Self care can be found in everyday chores or a commute when I am with my partner or listening to a good podcast.
It seems there is a message that self-care means being alone or disengaging with life. I have found the opposite to be true. Self-care and that feeling of being fresh and restored actually comes from truly living and engaging with life. Try it out 🙂
I still love New Year Resolutions. I love that there is a time of year that people feel some sense of inspiration about their future. There is a magic in the air as one year closes out and a new one begins. A magic that seems to help some people give themselves a chance to dream or reimagine themselves.
The problem comes when they wake up two weeks later in a culture that doesn’t support change and growth. We live in a time when it is easier than ever to keep the status quo, avoid personal responsibility, and busy ourselves into oblivion.
Still, I believe in people. I have the honor of seeing people change their lives all the time… not just in January. I also know that sometimes people need a few false starts. Sometimes the journey is trying out new ways of being and discarding what doesn’t work. I don’t blame people for quitting gyms after two weeks. Have you been to most gyms during January? The place is packed and its cold and flu season… gross. Maybe it will lead you to finding the right gym, the right workout community, or the right sport that keeps you fit. Sometimes we make progress in quitting.
But I digress.
I promised myself this wouldn’t be a blog of “Joella’s new year opinions.” Rather, I wanted to talk about Cascadia Family Therapy’s resolve to provide the highest quality couple and family therapy we possibly can. We are more committed than ever in 2018 to creating massive change in the lives of our clients and in our industry.
It is time for the old way of therapy (you know the once a week, bill your insurance, only to get a bill months later, all the while wondering what your therapist is trying to accomplish with you kind) to get out of your way. It is time for a new way of therapy. Therapy that is transparent, empowering, and collaborative. Therapy that trusts the clients to do the work and believes in people’s resilience and possibility.
We are here to do that work. When a couple or family is ready for change, we are here to work, support, encourage, provide skills, whatever it takes.
We believe in YOU to build the life you want. Make your resolution stick!
One of my favorite parts about being a marriage and family therapist (or systems therapist) is that we can pick from a wide variety of context to create change. Our minds and bodies are deeply connected and our relationships and environment are also connected to us. When you think of humans in the way, you can see how picking one area of life and making a positive change can impact the other areas.
If you are stuck in some area of your life or if you are feeling depressed or anxious pick one of these areas and do something different:
- A relationship
- work environment
- home environment
- physical health
- give yourself the benefit of the doubt
- how you greet your loved ones
- go to bed earlier
- eat more fruit and veggies
- spend time outdoors
All of these things alter our chemistry and help us to get into another state of being.
What works for you?
Sitting down and writing about therapy is one of my favorite things to do. Being a marriage and family therapist requires a lot of reflection not just on what clients bring in but on what I am saying, doing, suggesting, inferring, the list goes on!
For me therapy is equal parts where have you been and where you are going. In fact, the best part of my craft is that I have the honor of dreaming for my clients. When hope is low and obstacles seem insurmountable, I have the freedom as an outsider and a trained professional to dream of different approaches, perspectives, or narratives. This is also part of the pleasure of running a fee for service business, clients get a therapist who makes time to reflect. But I digress….
I have felt myself having to just crank along this past week. Michael and I moved a couple miles up the road and it has felt like a sh*t storm (yes, that is the clinical term). Boxes, chapped hands, microwave meals, and lack of sleep have all driven us into the ground. I try my best to shield my clients from these stressors and keep my office a sacred space but I know I am not perfect. I was reminded of this when I saw my last blog was so long ago. It seems the website and blogging are always the first off of my list.
All that being said, this season to me is all about reflection. With the new year approaching, the short days, and long nights, it feels like mother nature forces us all to slow down. I look forward to having some extra time off to catch up and get back to the creative part of being a private practice. Michael and I have some massive goals for 2018 and hope to reconnect many more couples!
Things to ponder…..
How do you make time to reflect?
How do you reflect? Writing? Talking?
What are your intentions for 2018?
A friend recently told me about their experience trying out Bend Escape Room. In case you are not sure what I am talking about here is a summary of the games growing popularity.
I had two take aways from listening:
One, people are genuinely interested in spending more time with other human beings. In a world with exponential growth in technology and a variety of ways to avoid human interactions, things like Escape Rooms, outdoor sports and recreation, therapy, coaching, and shared office spaces keep growing and growing. It seems every time I hear of a potential job market becoming obsolete I hear an equal increase in these interactive spaces.
Secondly, people are searching for paths to connection. There is a shift in society from behind the computer screen to these spaces where ideas are built upon and connections form. It seems there is an underlying realization that human beings need each other. We need collaboration, cooperation, and all of the fine skills required.
Psychotherapy not only provides the skills necessary for collaboration and cooperation, it is also a space to try out those skills. After all, psychotherapy in my opinion should be an exercise in my expertise in relationships/emotional wellbeing and my client’s expertise in their own life. Therapy requires us to work collaboratively and cooperate toward a shared goal. Those skills then translate to your friends, family, and professional environments… which then translates to their friends, family, and professional environments.
It is all about connection!
To clients past, present and future.
To you, the reader of this blog post.
To those curious about therapy despite the WIDE variety of therapists, counselors, psychologists, social workers, etc.
To those who love deeply enough to leap for change.
To those of you who bare your soul and dare to hope.
I am grateful that I have the pleasure of working with brave people who dare to dream of a better life. I am honored to witness that change that occurs every week at Cascadia Family Therapy.
Last year at this time I addressed boundaries and how to use them effectively to have a good holiday season.
After giving a presentation to my community about boundaries and family of choice I heard a resounding theme.
It seemed the crowd had a great grasp on the concept of boundaries including how to use them and how to make them effective. The questions came as we shifted the focus to family of choice.
Family of choice refers to those who find the holidays are best spent with the family members they have chosen. Some times these are blood relatives, some times they are friends collected along the way. These are the people who make up the inner circle of your world. They are the people you trust fully and are there for you through thick and thin.
Guilt is a feeling associated with doing something wrong. Usually intentionally wrong. Or how dictionary.com puts it “the fact or state of having committed an offense, crime, violation, or wrong, especially against moral or penal law; culpability:He admitted his guilt.
When one gets married and especially when they have children, this is your family. Parents, siblings, and other relationships take a back seat to your marriage and children.
I suggest another word for the feeling associated with recognizing that a family of choice doesn’t include a parent(s) or sibling(s).
It sucks. No one in the world likes recognizing that a family member or someone they were raised by or raised with has a negative impact on them and their partner or children. And often those who need to build a family of choice the most have given way too much time, thought, consideration, and has given too many second chances.
Let go. Grieve. And give yourself permission to spend your holidays with people who make you feel loved, connected, and cared about.
It can be difficult to tell when you need outside help in your relationship. Relationships go through phases just like people and sometimes the stress we feel is simply a point of growth. However, when the stress or issue begins to inhibit growth and linger, it’s important to tend to the issue. Also if these behaviors or interactions occur for a long period of time or become primary ways of coping in the relationship they are red flags.
- You stop talking and start avoiding: Is there a topic you can no longer discuss because both of you get to mad or hurt? Is there a topic that you have discussed at great length with no resolution or understanding? When both partners begin giving up on finding understanding, it is an issue. It can be beneficial to have a professional guide you two to better understanding of one another instead of just avoiding.
- Withholding affection or stonewalling: when one or both partners participate in this behavior it is dooming the relationship. The good news is it’s just a coping skill, with therapy you can find more productive ways to move through issues.
- Keeping secrets: It doesn’t matter if they are financial, emotional, or any other type of secret, keeping secrets in a long term relationship doesn’t work.
- If you feel like the only problem is your partner. That isn’t how relationships work. It takes two people to build a relationship and chances are your behavior or attitude could be fueling what you don’t like in your partner. Keeping yourself stuck in the victim seat only prevents both of you from growing together building the life you do want.
- When one or both of you can no longer lighten up once in a while. When the topics or issues being avoided or the pattern that gets you two no where is so large you are no longer having date nights or having a good time together that’s when it is time to see a professional. Relationships need care and attention to survive.
Problems in your most important and intimate relationship is scary and isolating. It can feel like no one understands and there is no one to talk to.
Here are some triage steps to reducing damage and getting your relationship back on track:
- Stop the damage: Is there a topic that sets off the same argument? Is there a predictable negative interaction pattern that you can see? Does the problem appear unsolvable to one or both of you? These are excellent indicators to try doing something different. Try saying to your partner, “I feel like this topic always leads to an argument, can we put it aside until we have help with it?” or “I can see you are getting really upset with me, can we take a 20-30 minute time out to cool off?” Be sure to validate that you are both upset/hurt/angry, DO NOT MINIMIZE or ignore, simply state your desire for change and to not hurt one another more.
- Make time for the relationship: It is very common for couples to sense the stress in the relationship and begin to avoid the stress by avoiding one another. Often this leads one or both parties to begin to write a story in their minds about the relationship. These stories often sound like, “maybe I am better off on my own”, “all he does is avoid me”, “she has given up on me and this relationship”, or worse, “he/she did all this on purpose.” These narratives are built from only one side of the relationship and are rarely accurate. Make time to check in with one another and be curious, “what were your intentions?”, “how would you have preferred that argument to go?”, “what did you mean when you said ______?”
- Find a therapist or counselor who specializes in couples therapy. Many therapists are trained in their graduate programs to do couples work but that does not make a specialty. A therapist who specializes will work primarily with couples, attend ongoing training in couples therapy, and have confidence about how to approach your particular issue. Many therapists and counselors offer free consultations. At least talk on the phone with the therapist to get a sense of what they have to offer and how often they work with a couple.