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The Resistance

Over the summer I have been pursuing all sorts of creative endeavors. Painting, music, videography, anything and everything that piques my interest. To me having a creative outlet is a key ingredient to self-care. And as a therapist, I am always seeking to add to my self-care repertoire.

These creative endeavors lead me to the book The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.  I have not been able to put this book down! The concept is that art is a part of our souls and often a higher calling but it is commonly met with different forms of resistance. From alcohol to love to procrastination, Pressfield describes in detail the many faces of resistance.

In reading these descriptions of resistance, I couldn’t help but think of therapy. Therapy is often an artistic endeavor where my professional expertise meets the wide variety of human experience and together we create a new paradigm for the future. When I reflect on it that way, I can’t help but ponder how the resistance may show up for my clients.

  • Dreading sessions perhaps?
  • Too afraid to pick up the phone to even schedule a session?
  • Perhaps beating yourself up for even feeling as though you need a therapist?
  • Ignoring the issue hoping it magically disappears?
  • Trying once again to solve it all yourself?
  • Too stuck to even find a therapist?

Resistance is a powerful force that often prevents us from moving forward. But as Pressfield articulates, “the greater the resistance, the more important the work.”

Unified Couples

“One of the largest, strongest horses in the world is the Belgian draft horse. Competitions are held to see which horse can pull the most, and one Belgian can pull eight thousand pounds. The weird thing is if you put two Belgian horses in the harness who are strangers to each other, together they can pull twenty to twenty four thousand pounds. Two can pull not twice as much as one but three times as much as one. This example represents the power of synergy. However, if the two horses are raised and trained together they can learn to pull and think as one. The trained, and therefore unified, pair can pull not only twenty four thousand pounds but will hit thirty to thirty-two thousand pounds. The unified pair can pull an extra eight thousand pounds simply by being unified.” – Dave Ramsey EntreLeadership

Early on in my career as a Marriage and Family Therapist I could sense the power of  working with couples. For many therapists and counselors it is fear inducing to be in a room with two people who are so in sync. However, I have always found it intriguing. Couples who are committed to one another and share a future, are powerful both in their relationship and individually. There is a synergy that gets created between two people. And when couples are unified, nearly every area of their life is impacted with that power.

At the same time, that same energy can also tear couples apart. And it can happen quickly. Like I shared in a previous blog, 3 Reasons Couples Therapy is so Important, when couples face issues it can feel terribly isolating. On top of that, it is common for partners to begin to build elaborate stories about the hows, whats, and whys their partner is hurting them. Assumptions start to compound the issues and suddenly a miscommunication feels like a free fall into the abyss for both partners.

I always remind couples that their job is to work together and put me out of work. It seems couples therapy is always more work up front than people anticipate and at the same time, when communication and connection starts to improve the synergy snaps back much faster than they anticipated.

Cultivate and nurture that synergy. It makes a couple a force to be reckoned with!

 

 

 

 

 

Food and Mood

I often think to myself, “Self… maybe it is time to go earn a PhD so that you can finally study the connection between food and mood.”

Well, it turns out there is more research than ever on this and I have found a video linking it all together in a neat little 9 minute YouTube video.

Thank goodness!

Psychiatric Medications are not Harmless

I learned of Dr. Peter Breggin’s work in 2014 when Michael and I began researching more about how the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM) was written. Dr. Peter Breggin is a psychiatrist who early on in his career realized that psychiatric medications had little science behind them. Dr. Breggin outlines his journey and how he now uses his extensive knowledge to defend people who act out of character when placed on psychiatric medications in his book Medication Madness.

Below is a link to his latest work in defending a young woman in Massachusetts. It’s an ongoing inside look at the effects of psychiatric medications and the media’s ability to shape the publics understanding in an ongoing blog series.

Check it out:

https://www.madinamerica.com/2017/08/michelle-carter-text-boyfriend-death/

autonomy

The longer I practice therapy the more passionate I become about client autonomy.

Autonomy from a sociological perspective defined by wikipedia is, “the capacity of a rational individual to make an informed, un-coerced decision.”

The foundation of my work is in reflecting back what clients present as the problem or their perspective, educating clients about what I know (typically what research says) and sharing my perspective as a professional. With these components clients will often uncover more options.

More options create a sense of autonomy. It’s the shift from this is happening to me to I am happening to it.

My goal is for clients to leave sessions feeling like their life is back in their hands, they are no longer held captive by patterns or habits, and that they are armed with information and options.

3 Reasons Life Feels Unsatisfying

While this may not be an exhaustive list, here are a few reasons to explore and get you started:

  1. Something NEEDS to change or be addressed: If there is one thing I have learned from years of working with people it is that human beings are extremely resilient. The body, mind, and spirit can endure and cope with large amounts of stress. Whether it is the physical stress of not addressing a medical need or the emotional stress of staying with a harmful relationship. People are able to cope themselves into corners and dark places. Taking time to reflect on life and truly look at how long a relationship, job, or physical condition has been going on can provide clarity into what truly needs to change. It never ceases to surprise me how many years people will endure things (especially jobs and relationships) that are literally destroying other areas of their life.
  2. Change Requires New Narratives: It doesn’t matter how far someone moves or how great the new job or relationship is, the old story will still replay from time to time. Be prepared to remind your wandering thoughts that life is changing and to give it time before feelings of satisfaction or peace come with that change. Keep track of successes and milestones that mark your way to the life you do want. Proactively choose the narrative or story that you replay in your mind. I ran into this problem when I went from a grueling internship to private practice. I had days I would catch myself dreading going to work or feeling anxious about my practice. I finally realized, I was addicted to that way of thinking because I had endured and coped with a harsh environment for so long. It may sound silly but I had to literally remind myself that I was not doing that kind of work any more. I had to create a new story to tell myself about my career. I would reflect on how lucky I am to spend my time helping people and if there is something I can change it.
  3. Gratitude is a practice first and a feeling second: A practice of gratitude is truly life changing. When clients discover the ability to be grateful for the change that is occurring in their lives or focus on the parts of life that are going well feelings of happiness and satisfaction abound. The ability to not let work stress or one relationship bleed into other areas of life is important. Just because there is a couple difficult people at work doesn’t mean a person has to hate the whole job. Practicing gratitude helps keep life in focus and can offer clarity about what needs to change. I see this commonly with the most intimate and important relationships in client’s lives. When there is marriage or family stress, it appears to affect all areas of life. Staying grateful for what is going well in life keeps people focused and offers an honest reflection of your present context or environment.

Questions to ask your Therapist

Important Reminder: You are in charge of your mental and emotional health. No one should tell you what your experience is and mental health concerns are not a reason to feel disempowered and/or helpless. Your therapist/doctor/counselor/psychologist/psychiatrist should be able to clearly articulate risks and benefits of the treatment they are suggesting. It is my opinion, after 7 years of training and practice in this field that medication should always be approach as an absolute last resort and never a first response to mental health concerns. In addition, a diagnosis (such as bi-polar or depression) is not a treatment plan. 

When looking for a therapist, it is important to know a few important but simple questions to ask to ensure you get the best therapist for your situation.

  1. Where & when did you attend school? If the school doesn’t sound relatively familiar, look it up. Make sure that live supervision and an internship were part of the program, especially if you are working with an intern. If the clinician is fully licensed, you know they have had three years of supervision in Oregon.
  2. How long have you been practicing and what is your license in? It doesn’t matter whether the therapist has been in practice for 9 months or 29 years, neither guarantees a good therapeutic fit. What you are looking for in this question is for a confident response. If you get a shaking, “only a few months” or a cocky, “too long!” it’s a red flag. You want a clinician who is hungry to learn but confident in their skills. It’s a delicate balance!
  3. How do you believe change occurs? Some clinicians believe change occurs when brain chemicals are altered, others believe it happens over a period of time when you gain more coping skills, others believe change happens in the moment in therapy. It is important to know how your therapist believes change happens. For example, I believe that change occurs when the habits/patterns change whether it is emotional, behavioral, or interactional (between two people) patterns. Therefore it would not be a good fit for me to work with a therapist who believed that my emotional state would improve by changing chemicals in my brain.
  4. What is the average amount of sessions you work with clients? The answer to this comes down to preference and what you believe change looks like. I typically work with clients for 12 session. I believe clients should pay me only for the sessions they need and as they begin to experience change and healing we should start spacing out sessions. Clients can always come back if they need more support and I never want to foster dependence or send a message that a client needs me. Other therapists have a more long term approach, I can’t speak to that because I wasn’t trained in it, so it comes down to what you believe.
  5. What is your treatment plan?  Of course you may have to attend a couple sessions to get the answer to this question, but a good therapist can always articulate how they are seeing the problem and how they seek to help you with it.

Is a diagnosis really validating?

You are sad more days than not.

You no longer take pleasure in activities you used to enjoy.

You feel a sense of dread as your eyes flutter open each morning.

Your psychotherapist listens to these symptoms and others. After an hour the therapist informs you “you have depression” or if they are really precise “you are clinically depressed.”

Does this really validate your experience of these feelings? Does it point to the causes? Does it evoke a sense of autonomy or ability to manage? Does it outline a path toward your healthiest self? Would you think differently if you knew that calling it clinical depression ensured a billable hour for your therapist?

While these labels are not entirely arbitrary and do describe a constellation of symptoms they fail to recognize the true complexity of human experience. It is much easier to call the experience of loosing a loved one, divorce, affairs, betrayal, job loss, change in career, or one of the other ways in which we as humans are forced to endure change “depression” or “anxiety.”

The problem comes as the public embraces these labels and scientists hypothesize about brain chemicals they cannot measure, leading the consumer to believe these labels are a permanent fixed state.

The true injustice of this issue in our society becomes most clear to me when I hear women repeat in the therapy room, “my anxiety…., “my depression…,” “it isn’t my partner, it’s my anxiety.” In those moments I am reminded of all the ways in which women are trained to be peacemakers from a young age. It is easier for some women to accept a permanent life of depression and anxiety than to set a boundary with a loved one.

These labels, “depression,” “anxiety,” “bi-polar,” can be dangerous generalizations of societal problems like racism, sexism, and poverty. They only keep people stuck and keep providers and clients from talking about the real issues like the affair, the death, the loss, and uncertainty. Or more dangerous they prevent conversations about safety in relationships, what leads a person to believing suicide is an option, the feeling of being an inadequate parent, or the fear of loosing a partner or spouse.

Let’s talk about what is really happening.

 

 

3 Ways to be More Mindful

There is a growing awareness of the power of mindfulness in our culture today. It’s a beautiful thing to me, as someone who has practiced yoga for more than a decade. While many want to pretend that mindfulness is a new concept, it is really one of the oldest concepts. Mindfulness, even how it is taught by therapists today, is Vipassanā (Pāli) or vipaśyanā a Buddhist practice that has been around for ages. The idea is to gain awareness of your breath and emotions while not controlling or judging either one. It is a practice of simply observing what is happening.

As simple as that may sound, I find people can get overwhelmed with making time to practice this and often have a lot of judgements about meditation and mindfulness. Emotions, breath, observing, it can feel so intangible in the beginning.

So here are a few tangible steps to take on the way to developing your mindfulness practice:

  1. Identify your favorite spaces. Where do you feel relaxed? What places either in your home or outdoors do you feel reflect you the most? What if you made just a little bit of time to linger in those places?
  2. What are you eating? The further science progresses, the more it seems to reflect old sayings like, “You are what you eat!” A lot of foods that are commonly consumed serve only as distractions. Spikes of sugar and rushes of caffeine pull our emotions with them. Could you choose to purchase a few more fresh fruits and vegetables and a few less packaged foods? What if you spent just a few minutes longer preparing what you are consuming? Can you just observe what that process is like for you, preparing and eating? What do you experience?
  3. What do you do to prepare for sleep? What are the conversations you have before you go to bed? What is on your mind when you get into bed? What is your routine?

Becoming aware of these every day habits and patterns will help you tune into yourself. Without sitting on a pillow in a yoga position, tuning into these patterns will offer you insight and begin to develop that ability to observe your experience, the key ingredient of mindfulness.

The Power of Story

Today while listening to the Rich Roll Podcast I was reminded of the power of story. The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, other people, the world we live in, and what we are capable of, all these stories have a tremendous impact. There are times in private practice where I feel like I am encountering this theme of story everywhere I go. It seems story is one of the ways in which people begin to reinforce their stuck-ness.  Stories like, “I’ve never been that kind of person” or “that just what couples do, they slowly grow distant” become the most power reinforcer of staying the same and not trying anything new.

In those cases, my job becomes opening up possibilities, challenging the status quo, and inevitably, helping clients shape the new story. I get the honor of seeing clients come into my office saying, “couples just drift apart” and then leave my office saying, “our love was always there we just needed to nurture it.”

What story do you tell yourself to stay the same? What if it weren’t true? What if you could CHOOSE another story to repeat to yourself?

Need a template? Listen to this podcast: http://www.richroll.com/podcast/david-clark-2/

I believe in you to change your life.