This Blog Is About

This blog is about---You! Each and every post is about you. Use it to challenge your usual patterns, as a tool for self-discovery, to stimulate your thinking, to learn about yourself and to answer your questions about others.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Bunch!

My recent plan has been to do a Blog2book when I reached 100 posts.
I just discovered that I have already written 116.
116 blog posts is a bunch!
I am happily continuing in this self-made writing gig.
Smiles.  Having fun.  Expressing myself.  Sharing what I know.  Telling you about the ones who inspire me (books, clients, philosophers, colleagues, friends.)

Invitation:  Those of you who are reading the blog but have not yet become a follower---I would be encouraged if you did ;-)

Your Side of The Street

If you are currently in therapy yourself and want to get the most out of it, here are some tips:

1.  Setting up a pattern in your brain.
If it is possible to arrange with your counselor to meet on the same day each week, do so.  A few days before your session, begin taking a self-survey.  Notice what is coming up for you.  Next, begin to learn to allow a natural prioritization to take place within; see what bubbles up to the top as feeling like it's the most important to you.  This is probably the topic which will lead you to the most growth.  At your session, all plans aside, present what is on your mind and in your heart at that moment.  After your session, if you can do something quiet or in solitude for awhile, it a good idea to give yourself a chance to absorb what went on in the session.  Do not go to a friend and discharge all the associations and  feelings that were generated in you during the appointment.  You dissipate the psychic energy of the therapy process by doing that.  Keep it to yourself (maybe you can think of it as your personal treasure).  Then, during the next few days, reflect upon what occurred in your visit and notice if anything comes up in you as a result of what you and your therapist talked about.
Take a day off and then  begin your prep for your coming session---and now, as you can see, you are putting your brain into a healthy pattern.
Practice this and, eventually, it will become natural to you.

2.  What to expect.
Some clients who are brand new to therapy expect it to be like it is at the doctor's office when the patient says what's wrong and the doc writes out a prescription.  Psychotherapy is not like that; it is a collaborative process.

3.  How to use your time.
All is 'grist for the mill':  Bring your problems, your questions, your feelings, your quandaries, your wishes, your plans, your successes, your insights, your ideas, your past, your thoughts,--- whatever is pertinent to you.  It is your time to explore.

4.  Absorbing what is offered.
Back to the two-way street:  Your therapist will have some observations to share, some suggestions, some questions, in response to what you present---try to take those in and respond to them.

5.  Let me know if this was helpful!                                                  

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Two-Way Street

In a discussion with Lauren Mcleod about learning, we were talking about what is required for new learning to take place.  When I said:  "Sometimes it takes repetition." Lauren said:  "Not if you are open to it."  If you are receptive and open in your therapy, not only to what your therapist offers, but, also, to what emerges in you, you will have the best chance of getting the most out of it.  Of course, this requires some degree of trust.  Maybe you need to assure yourself o f your therapist's credentials before you begin, maybe you need answers to some questions you have about the therapist's experience, or maybe, it will just take some time.  But if you are in therapy, it would be to your advantage to pay attention to how open you are in that relationship.

Today in a session I had with one of my patients who is a long-term recovering alcoholic, he quoted an AA saying;  " You can't give it away if you don't have it."  And this is the other side of the coin.  It seems to me to be most important for the person in the therapist's chair to have been and be in their own growth process.  A therapist is not a guru, shouldn't be a know-it-all, nor should they think they  have all the answers.  What you want for your witness, your guide, is a person who is in process, themselves.  The therapist must be learning and developing constantly.  There is a difference---between you and the therapist, between the therapist and your friends or relatives---that difference is, training, watching many others go through problems to reach resolution, and more experience with self-evaluation.  However, it seems to me that the therapist should be engaged in the act of introspection and in their own efforts of personal development just as their patient is.

Psychotherapy is a two-way street:  Both the patient and the therapist must take responsibility for their part in creating the healing relationship.

Do you think of your therapy as a collaboration?

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Healing Relationship

Yesterday a patient was in for her last session.  As we were reviewing the road we had traveled together---the work she had done, the progress she had made, her plans for future growth, I commented on the importance of what we were doing.  In other words, therapy has stages, a beginning, a middle and an ending stage.  We were, by doing this overview and tying up loose ends, moving through the last stage.
These stages will take place in varying time frames, anywhere from a few months to a number of years.  As we talked about that, I told her that many people skip the stage that she had been doing.  They terminate their therapy relationship by leaving a voice mail message.  (this is a disadvantage to both the patient and the therapist).  Her response was that she imagined that most people think of a therapist as simply a service provider who doesn't really care personally about them.  She thought it would be a common assumption for a patient that they are just one of many and don't matter much to the therapist.

I felt stunned when I heard this; it is such a different view from what my experience is.
After thinking about it a bit, I realized that, indeed some therapists do function this way; there is a position of indifference on the part of some. They may have a particular theory they have adopted and each client is run through that system, put through their paces, so to speak.   Other therapists take a teaching position.  Some say they can do therapy with anyone - it makes no difference; they do what they do regardless of who's in front of them.  I once had a therapist say to me:  Therapists sell their time.   These are all cold, detached positions to take, in my view, but the last struck me as burned out and bitter.

Fortunately, this grim picture is not my picture nor is it what I see most of my colleagues doing.  The truth is, I put my heart out to the people who come to see me.  I treat my patients with the highest regard.  I honor the fact that they are sharing their personal triumphs, the painful parts of their lives, their confusion, and sometimes their innermost secrets.  The empathy I feel is real.  The compassion I offer is true.  The respect I show is genuine.  In fact, it's difficult for me to imagine how a therapist could witness these intimate personal expressions that patients offer and not be moved.  Do we have to remain professional in demeanor, ethical in behavior, and, all the while keep our thinking caps on?  Yes, of course.  But, most of us are also human!

Part of the position I take in conducting therapy is that the therapy relationship itself is (or should be), healing.  I am there to learn about and accept this individual before me with all their assets and all their flaws.  I am there to join with that person, to create together, something completely new.  As I have said in earlier posts, I am convinced that each person in this world is unique.  So, while the problems presented in the therapy office have commonalities, the resolution is always different.

Therapy offers good attention.  You can't fake that.


If you ever see a photograph here that you want to look at more closely, most of them can be temporarily enlarged by double-clicking on the photograph itself.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The State of Our Desks

This is for the 'organized mess' people mentioned below (post:  Happiness and Preferences)!


Snapshot of a Messy Mind

The piles on messy desks are useful.  You put your fingers on things quickly---often far faster than someone who files stuff.  Plus, randomness is an essential part of creativity.  Looking through those piles spurs connections, random thoughts that give you unexpected insights."
---David Freedman, co-author of A Perfect Mess:  The Hidden Benefits of Disorder"
Psychology Today March/April 2010

Friday, April 9, 2010

Happiness and Preferences

Recently I've written a few posts on happiness.  There was a client quote about happiness, some offerings by various researchers, some theory about personal adult development and your sense of well-being.  Today, I will consider happiness from a slightly different angle, that of boundaries.

The very first step toward happiness is to pay attention.  You first, before you can begin to apply theories or suggestions, must be able to know when you are, in fact, happy.  Can you identify that
feeling in yourself?  It may seem a silly question.  However, we are all like onions---there are many layers over the central core.  Some of those layers consist of events/experiences we've been taught we should be happy about.  Maybe you're supposed to be happy when you graduate from school but, actually, you are mostly scared.  You are expected to be happy when you do something new---achieve a promotion at work, have a baby, or purchase a new car are a few examples.  But, what if you are a person who does not like to be the center of attention?  Others may want you to be happy when you are on vacation but maybe you are actually excited and involved in a creative job that is hard to tear yourself away from.  These are but a few ideas of how we might be socialized to feel.

Another layer of the onion skin may consist of discipline, your own self-discipline.  Maybe you are goal-directed and can readily put your own needs on the back-burner in favor of movement toward the larger goal.  Or perhaps, you are just a very organized individual---or a list person.  You favor taking care of necessities over personal joy.  'I'll get business done and THEN I'll have fun.'

A layer of onion skin could be simple socialization:  As discussed in an earlier post, our society is an extroverted one.  So if your happiness bubbles up in you when you have time alone or "me-time", there has probably been a lot of pressure on you to be different, to be more gregarious.  In Western culture, by and large, people are expected to prize socializing with others.

In another example, maybe you are at your most creative in an environment that is an 'organized mess'.  America idolizes immaculate houses, beautiful offices, spare interiors, nature shaped into parks, etc.  It may be very hard to allow others to see how you really like to live.

There are lots of onion skin layers.  The place to begin with yourself is to start identifying yours.
When you can peel off some of these, or at least, intercept them when they threaten to interrupt your happiness, you will be able to freely identify--to yourself--your own happy moments.

Once you have begun to know your own idiosyncratic sense of joy, you will start to know and, sometimes express, your preferences.  Of course, again, up pops socialization.  Society says that we are supposed to be agreeable, to go along with things.  What if your preference collides with those of others?  Well, that would be a choice-point.  Choose for yourself when it will not harm others is my general advice on that.

Summary:  When your boundaries are intact, you recognize when you are happy and also when you are unhappy.  Enduring is not your concern.  You are not fuzzy about your preferences; you have clear preferences and are able to appropriately act upon them.


From the essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Success"

"To laugh often and love much, to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children;
to earn the approbation of honest citizens and endure the betrayal of friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to give of one's self; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived---this is to have succeeded."

(Dedicated to my friend Linda Schaeffer who just completed a magnificent career first as Director of an agency helping chemically dependent individuals and families and then designing and running a multi-aspect program assisting the elderly in Contra Costa County)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Easy Way

Last night my Feldenkrais teacher instructed us to "...find the easiest way to do the movement."  Pose the question to your own body:  Is there an easier way that I can do this?
The highest level of this approach to life is the famous line from  Joseph Campbell:               "Follow your bliss."
Possibly the in-between of these two pieces of advice and the most doable is to try to accomplish, in as pleasant a way as possible, as many of the things you must as possible.
Example:  The other day I had a big load of work to do and then had appointments at my office.  It was a beautiful Spring day.  So I loaded up my laptop, all my work and then my camera went into the bag too.  I took the back road to the Peet's Coffee & Tea shop in Pinole.  As I went, I stopped along the way, parked for a minute on the side of that quiet road, and snapped a few pictures of the peaceful green hills.  When I got to Peet's, I got a nice espresso drink and did my work there.  When it was time, I went on to my office.  So I made a demanding morning into a time that contained, for me, some pleasure.
   What is the easiest way?  What is the most pleasurable way?  Which way will involve the least effort?  Questions asked to help guide us to use our bodies in a more efficient and healthy manner, struck me as rather more profound than just that.  What if we made it a habit to ask our self that question?  Here's a challenge:  See if you can accomplish, in a week, all that you usually would but in an easier fashion.  Find a way to do everything while making it less taxing.
   A common example is having a problem and worrying over it.  Isn't just having the problem enough??  How about disciplining yourself to focus on solving the problem and forbidding the worry part from being involved.
   A colleague once told me a story of a last-minute change in plans, imposed by another and completely unexpected, which robbed him of something he had been very much looking forward to.  After hearing the news, he hung up the phone and said to himself:  I am going to allow myself to be disappointed about this for 15 minutes.  After that, I will go on with my day.
An interesting idea I thought when I heard it---would take some self-discipline it seemed.  But!  It would be a lot easier and would afford the opportunity for other pleasures that day as well as leave room for him to 'follow his bliss' if he could.
   Getting tense in traffic has no effect on the amount of traffic there is, so, how can you relax yourself in that situation?  Make it more pleasant.
   Maybe you made a mistake with a friend, forgot a lunch date, stood them up!  Ohhh, terrible!  Well, really, does it have to be?  Maybe that person made the best of it.  And perhaps there's a way you can make up for it.  Mental self-punishment won't reverse time.  Make it easier:  Apologize a.s.a.p. and then demonstrate your real regret with something that shows that person they are, indeed, important to you.  End of story.
   Okay, enough of my examples, do you have some to share?

   Or, at least (if it's easier...!) tell us, if you decide to institute a practice of asking yourself the questions, how it goes.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Keeping Your Perspective

   Sometimes when I attend a presentation, as I did today, by another therapist, I get inspired.  This was about a very difficult case getting good results for the patient.  Not only is that a wonderful thing to hear about, but, it was the joy that the treating therapist felt which was so infectious.  She was quite clinical and straight-laced for 95% of her talk, then, toward the end, in the more informal question-answer period, her animation gave her away!  This was not about money, not about pride of accomplishment, it was the pure and simple joy of sharing a change for the better in another human being.  And I think that most of us, in the room, felt happy for him (the patient) and also, just excited to hear about good work being done.
   The point is, that there IS help out there, of all kinds.  There ARE good, qualified people in all fields --- professional and business.  Granted, you may "...have to kiss a lot of frogs." but, if you need assistance, be pro-active (this patient was) and find someone who can really help.
   The second point about this story is that, although most of us (who have skills to offer others) DO need to earn a living, there are other motivations besides earning money, like doing a good job or finding personal meaning in your work.  Maybe you can think of more and will share them with us in the comments section...
   Keeping our perspective is vital in these challenging times.  Some people are more beset with troubles than others, as always, but right now, many-many people, if not most people, are suffering a significant downturn economically.  That is an adjustment.  It requires re-prioritizing.
Keeping your perspective: ~ Find help, if you need it.
                                           ~Recognize you are facing change, unbidden, large and small.
                                           ~Have compassion for yourself.
                                           ~Stay in reality but, allow yourself to enjoy what IS good in your life.
                                           ~Avoid catastrophic thinking.
                                           ~Remember that others are in the same boat, you're not a lone victim.
                                           ~It's probably not your fault.  Most middle-class people have worked hard and are still.  They thought they were doing all the right things and then, the rug got pulled out from under them.
                                           ~Borrow coping strategies from your friends.  Since so many of us are struggling financially at this time, there are plenty of examples all around you to draw from.
                                           ~Offer a smile or a genuine compliment to someone else; maybe you'll get one someday and it will cheer you up.
                                           ~Again, maintain reality but you can still look for (even expect) good things to happen.
   Let me know how you are doing

Poll Results

First poll results:  New look of blog and posts on individual issues got the highest rating.  Photographs came in next.  Articles about relationships came in next and no one  wanted shorter posts.  Thanks for voting!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

In A Nutshell

"For me this is a special place I have where I can come and say everything and anything---no holds barred and I won't be judged.  I will be listened to and get some good suggestions." Remember the "I lost 38# since I've been seeing you" patient? This was offered up this week as her experience/description of what therapy is to her.  It's a good, short and to the point statement.

I would add a few things. ~ A therapist listens to you in a different way from what usually happens with a friend or relative.  One of the most meaningful of those is that the therapist listens to what may be unsaid, what is beneath the surface.  The therapist does take in your words, the facts of the
matter, of course, but, at the same time, there is this attention to what might be the deeper significance for you.
~Attention is also something most of us are unable to get or give very well in our demanding, busy lives.  A therapist puts their own issues and other distractions to the side and focuses on you for 45 minutes.  Good attention, quality attention is something that happens in therapy.
~Also, a therapist is trying to get to know you.  This goes beyond not judging; it is trying to know the many aspects of a single individual and to understand how they function in that person.
~The therapist takes a position of trying to promote your own tendencies to grow, improve, do your life better, or make more beneficial choices more often.  She is scanning for signs of a wish to change or an idea for a new direction, or a potential insight about the person's past that might be helpful in influencing new behavior.
~The therapist tries to help you clarify your own thinking about whatever the conundrum is that you bring up.
These particular parts of what a therapist does for a patient afford the patient an experience, an experience that is different from what happens anywhere else.