Repairing a Relationship

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.

 

Resolve

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!

At The Speed of Life

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?

When to seek Couples Therapy:

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

 

Co-Couples Therapy

To be honest, I am just as surprised as you.

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!

Call – text – connect  (541) 639-2986

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

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.

3 Reasons Couples Therapy is so Important

  1. Attachment turns us all into toddlers: The great John Bowlby pioneered research on attachment. He found that when people or animals are denied their primal need to be attached to their mother or father, they self destruct and go into a full on fit in protest. Sue Johnson later found in her research that humans are the same way with their husband/wife/partners. These relationships become just as imperative of a bond. People will self destruct and throw a full on tantrum to get their partners love. I see it all the time, the creative often ingenious scheming that individuals come up with to get their partners attention or love. People will cry, yell, give the silent treatment, or whatever it takes to try and reach their partner. To the other partner it may feel like an attack but it’s really a cry for help. Therapy can break this cycle and give couples the skills they need to talk about their needs and feelings in a new more productive way.
  2. Others are invested: I hear it often from clients, a friend or family member they want to talk to about their marriage wants them to stay together or get divorced. It happens. Close friends and family members can take sides or form their own option, leaving the person with the marriage problem feeling worse than before. Couples therapy is a neutral environment where both partners can speak freely about their relationship. In that environment couples can quickly start making necessary changes that produce results.
  3. Marriage struggles feel so isolating: Because of reason above, it can feel there is no one to talk to about your feelings or concerns. Your most valuable and intimate relationship is not something you want to just get opinions about, it is too important for that. It can feel so isolating when the person who knows you the best is the one person you feel you can’t talk to. Therapy creates a great space for feelings to be acknowledge without feeling threatened.

Humanity

I recently listened to an episode of This American Life in which they were exploring the old adage, “you will understand when you are older.” In the final act, they are talking to a man in the early stages of dementia. He describes what it is like to go to his doctor and be asked questions like “Who is the president?” and “What day is it?” and worst of all, they ask him to draw a analog clock depicting a particular time.

The man, a former engineer professor, is bothered that he struggles so much with this task. His life before was centered around numbers. He sits down one day and deconstructs the issue. He figures out and later articulates to his wife, the difficulty is that they are three layers. The hours, 1-12 (even though there are 24 hours in a day), the minutes (which correlate with the numbers 1-12 but represent 5’s) and on top of that, the larger hand tells the minutes while the smaller hand tells the hour. No wonder I am 30 and still have trouble reading an analog clock!

Anyway, this was an amazing story but that was not what fascinated me the most. What caught my attention was that his wife of decades kept feeding him words and prodding him along. It reminded me of many therapy sessions with parents and children. This constant need for your loved one to achieve in a way that society can recognize. It broke my heart. Here are people, young or old, trying to find their way in their own words, as fragile and disjointed as it may be, and we as a society have lost our ability to simply wait.

The evidence of this impatience and obsession with boiling every part of a human into a number is all around us. The survey of your doctor, what stories post in your Facebook feed, or what makes me most sad, the number of smiley or sad faces an elementary child comes home from school with.

I wish I could remember who said this, but I heard someone say that the true tragedy of our society isn’t what law has been or will be passed or the absolute joke of candidates in this presidential election, but instead the loss of humanity. The loss and oversimplification of the infinitely complex experience of being a human being. Our children are not numbers and our loved ones are not defined by the words they struggle to find. And each one of us deserves patience and quiet loving support to find who we are today even if it appears to be drastically different from yesterday.

So next time you feel like filling in a word or take a test score to mean something about you or a loved one’s intelligence, ask yourself, “does this really mean something or do I just feel a general pressure from society?” Or if you are really up for a challenge, “what is it about this score, lack of ability, or mistake that makes me feel uncomfortable enough to correct this person?”