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.
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:
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.
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!
There is a part of me that has been trained by our society to believe that there is no way something I enjoy so much could benefit the world. Isn’t work supposed to be dull and mundane?
Long ago when I graduated with my masters degree in marriage and family therapy and Michael started his, we had hoped one day to work together. At that time, we thought working together in our own private practice built on our convictions was the dream.
Instead, over the last year we have found our calling.
Working with couples together.
I am intentional about naming it a “calling.” It isn’t niche, we didn’t build this practice with this service in mind. We have yet to discover a sustainable way to bill or market it, but it is working. We are seeing couple after couple walk away reporting a stronger more fulfilling relationship. We are helping couples identify what is working for them and the narratives or beliefs that hold them back. We are creating a space in which more perspectives equates more options. We hold space for gender roles and rules, not just from one genders perspective.
Stop in for a free 20 minute consultation to see if this is calling you too!
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.”
“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!
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.
There is a tendency in our culture to think that change, like love, is just something that happens. However, there are steps or access points to engage in change. Use a combination of these access points and watch the results pile up. I will list these from easiest to more difficult.
Physical State: One way to encourage yourself to think differently or make different decisions is to get in a good work out. If you are using a workout for this specific purpose, schedule it as early in the day as possible. Think about how you feel post workout: strong, empowered, ready to take on anything, and a bit proud of yourself. These feelings are great places to start making new decisions or renewed commitment to the decisions you are trying to make. If this is hard for you to imagine, think about the decisions you tend to make when you are feeling sad or stressed out or after binge watching Grey’s Anatomy all afternoon. Try tracking this for a week…. I am not supposed to guarantee anything as a therapist… but I can guarantee this strategy! You don’t need me to make this change!
Behavior: Make a commitment to changing a behavior like drinking more water, writing more, picking up a new hobby, or joining a club/community. I find it is easier for most people to add a new behavior or learn something new rather than making the focus quitting something. For instance it is hard to keep repeating to yourself “watch less tv” because you are reminding yourself of TV every time. Try repeating “write more” it will guide your thoughts in a new direction.
Food: Let’s face it, nutrition is not a rocket science these days. It is common knowledge that less food from a package and more fresh fruits and vegetables is a healthy way to go. Don’t discount the power of food on your mood and perception of your context. Eating fresh foods that you know are good for you can dramatically change the way you think and interact. Try drinking less caffeine … I know, that one is hard for a lot of people but caffeine is a stimulant and all stimulants no matter their legal status increase anxiety, jitteriness, irritability, and can prevent you from getting a good nights sleep.
Insight: We all have those moments when we “know” something but still choose to act the same way. It is hard to generate new insight inside the mind that got you to where you are now. New insight can be generated however through a coach, a class, or a therapist. These are contexts in which you can share where you get stuck and a new person with a different experience of you and your context can generate new ways of thinking about it.
I encourage my clients to make an attempt at all four. If a client is making change in a couple of these areas, therapy becomes exponential accelerating change and helping it stick. Michael Long, the other therapist here at Cascadia Family Therapy, calls therapy “New Year Resolution super glue.” Adding that fourth component to your commitment to work out more or eat healthier adds momentum.
Give it a try and let me know what you find in the comments below!
Some times therapy gets boiled down to simple tasks. I was reminded of this while taking voice lessons. My instructor continually pushes me to “stand up straight… but not too straight.” At first this felt so frustrating. Number 1; I felt often that I was standing up straight. Number 2; I understand it is important but sheesh, how much time can one really spend practicing something that should come naturally.
In therapy, this shows up as discussing simple communication. It is a vital part of our existence as human beings and since we learn from a young age it feels as though it should just function automatically. People, places, and experiences begin shaping our communication at the same time that we are learning. No one learns perfect communication and then can just go back to that perfect pattern. Instead, just like posture, we learn ways of being that get us by. They function to protect or to serve us in ways we may not have even thought about. Therefore, letting go of that old posture or communication pattern (or habit) can feel uncomfortable…. just like me singing standing up straight but not too straight.
Try giving yourself of others permission to fumble through new ways of being. Some of our most basic habits, postures, thoughts, topics, or self-talk, can seem so small but difficult to change.
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