Tag Archives: Foundations

Online Adventures

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New Directions – My therapist’s building in Paris

Over the years, I’ve worked with a number of therapists, beginning with a licensed social worker who was also a pastor at a local church.  Each one has walked a specific section of my journey with me, facilitating insight and clarity along the way.  Soon after arriving in Orlando, I worked with two different therapists during an exceedingly challenging time of my life.  As I ended 2017 in perhaps the best mental and emotional state I had experienced in years, I paradoxically sensed it was a good time to re-enter therapy.  I was facing several positive transitions and believed I had the emotional energy to tackle foundational concepts that would help me live life from the best level possible.  Though I did not have really specific issues I needed to resolve, I did know I wanted someone who would be able to sit with and explore whatever emerged.  Trouble was, all the therapists I knew who worked like that were my friends and so could not serve in this role.  My inquires for referrals turned up absolutely nothing that met my criteria.

I remembered one of my interns telling me he had experienced useful sessions online with Victor Yalom, the son of another therapist – Irwin Yalom who I admire in my approach to therapy – especially group work.  However, I had a skeptical view of online therapy:  I’m relational in my theoretical orientation – how on earth could there be great therapy in the absence of smell, touch, and the extra-sensory dynamics of physical presence I had come to rely on in terms of perceiving what clients were feeling?  As time wore on with no emerging options, I decided it couldn’t hurt to pursue the idea, even as a second-best one, and so I contacted Victor.  Many steps later, I started working with a therapist he recommended – Anastasia – in January of 2018 and it was definitely the right decision!  Here was a humbling example of what I teach my students: Anastasia’s ability to connect with me, to hear what I wasn’t saying, to see the patterns beneath the stories I shared, mattered more than the method we were using to talk to each other. Yes, online therapy has its drawbacks but what mattered was the therapist and his/her ability to build a relationship with the client regardless.  Wow!

Over the past 6 months, I have put aside my biases toward online therapy and considered its benefits: to English speakers living in non-English speaking countries, to individuals committed to deeper work but lacking therapy professionals in their part of the world, to my local clients with chronic illness who sometimes struggle to make it in to the office, to individuals like me across the state of FL who are looking for a specific therapeutic fit that they cannot find close by.

Last week, I happened to be visiting Paris and so I had a session in person with Anastasia. I was shocked to find that it did not feel much different from the sessions we’ve been doing online. It was the final push I needed to start offering what I have received: greater accessibility to this business of going deeper.  I believe my experience as an online therapy client with a therapist who does it excellently is the best qualifier for providing this service but I am still pursuing specific training and education in this particular modality to ensure that I continue to grow.

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Whitespace

whitespace

Big Creek Greenway – Cummings, GA

At the GLS event I mentioned a couple of months ago, I heard Juliet Funt speak on the concept of “whitespace“: that business of intentionally creating a space for NOTHING so that creativity can emerge in the workplace.  An excellent reminder and validation of my love for this concept in our personal lives.  Our culture is driven by the need for constant activity and most of us are completely enslaved to the merry go round.  There are two main traps we tend to fall in for this obsession with activity: The trap of achievement – believing that we are only as worthwhile as our productivity…hence there’s never a time we can feel at peace when we are still.  Or, there is the trap of emotional avoidance.  Sitting still becomes a dangerous dynamic to be avoided at all cost because it allows one’s pain and anxiety to emerge!   Often, you’ll hear folks caught in these traps exclaim, “Oh, I have no time for that”, or “Oh my goodness, I would go crazy sitting around doing nothing” when presented with the idea of rest, retreat, white-space.  I chuckle internally when I hear these tell-tale words.

The reality is, we absolutely need quiet time in order to grow.  There’s the irony – so often, we go, go, go because we’re trying to achieve, to progress, to accomplish.  All the while, in the absence of appropriate down-time, we’re actually moving backward.  Often, without realizing it until it’s too late.  The epiphany typically arrives in the form of physical illness because our bodies keep score and when we ignore it’s need to rest and recuperate, it eventually takes its revenge.

My focus today though is the emotional aspect.  This blog is about personal transformation.  With that in mind, where does white-space fit in?  Transformation begins with awareness, continues with learning and is then cemented by action.  In order for new learning to be integrated, it must be consolidated – a process that cannot happen during activity.  It only happens during times of quiet.  Have you ever noticed that you attend an amazing workshop where you learn great concepts but weeks later, you’re struggling to remember what you found so revolutionary?  Or, perhaps you pulled an all-nighter in college, studying for a big test and then drew a complete blank on so much during the exam?  These are examples of what happens to learning without white-space.  If we do not take the time to STOP and reflect on our new awareness, understanding and insight, we don’t retain it.  We don’t act upon concepts we don’t retain and thus, we stay stuck in patterns of dysfunction.

When clients have covered a lot of territory in session, I always warn them to take some downtime within the next 24 hours to let their work consolidate.  Eventually, I teach them to build this space into their regular routine so that there is ongoing room to grow and they don’t have to scramble for it when life brings them new opportunities.  Personally, I try to model this in my own life, regularly spending time in nature.  This week, during a quick trip to GA, I asked my host about the local parks and was guided to a fabulous nature trail.  My friend and I remarked how just one hour on the trail made such a difference in our mental outlooks…not to mention how much better our bodies felt after hours of driving the day before.

You may find yourself resonating with these words, making promises to yourself to find more white-space in your life but if you are caught in one of the two traps I mentioned, it’s easier said than done.  Your source of worthiness must be addressed if you are to ever make peace with stillness.  You must acquire the skills of emotion management if you are to become willing to let frightening feelings emerge.  Likely, you have specific family stories that have left you ill-equipped or believing lies that will forever hold you back.  If you don’t know how to work on cars, don’t you take your vehicle to a mechanic?  If you never learned to work on appliances, don’t you call a repair company for your broken refrigerator?  Yet somehow, when we recognize a gap in our mental or emotional skills, we hesitate to contact a therapist who is trained in the very skills we lack.  Strange, isn’t it?  Consider breaking that trend and give us a call if you realize your struggle to create white-space goes deep into territory you haven’t yet mastered!

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“Safe” People

Connection

I actually don’t like that term “safe” since it’s definition is: absence of risk. We all know that no part of life meets that definition. I think we’ll go with “safer” people. The concept has been mentioned in previous posts so I thought it time to focus on what I mean by this business of finding and connecting with safer others as we work on our own personal transformations.

You know that cliche phrase, “birds of a feather flock together”? It’s a cliche because it’s true. We attract the sort of people who match our dysfunctions. They either play the complementary role or share similar behaviors. Makes sense that as we address our dysfunctions, we would see increased conflict with our fellow birds, unless they too are willing to transform. As I mentioned in my last post, once we get past the grief of recognizing some birds will be left behind, we face the dilemma of finding new ones. How do we avoid collecting more of the same? How do we identify that which is healthier when we are in the midst of still figuring out our own healthy? There are three components which have emerged over the years in my own life as I am blessed with a tribe of safer people.

Presence
Safer people have worked on their own dysfunctions to the point that they are able to focus fully outside of themselves when they are with others. They aren’t perfect but because they’ve taken a long, hard look at their own pain, they don’t retreat into it or project it on to you when your pain surfaces. When we are with these folks, we feel connected and that their attention is focused primarily on us.

Love
This is such an overused word – it has lost specific meaning in our world. In this context, I want to define the word as ‘valuing the other’. When someone values you, they consider the ways in which they speak to and treat you. They make every effort to tangibly demonstrate care and concern; they listen to understand instead of to simply respond. Since they’ve worked on themselves, they’re well aware of their own shadow and so they offer grace for yours. Not that they allow themselves to be taken advantage of, but they don’t shame or condemn.

Keeping it real
Here’s another abused phrase. It has become a way to excuse being a jerk. It’s right up there with, “I’m brutally honest”. That’s not what I’m going for here. What I’m talking about is the person who will be authentic with you. They share their real selves and they tell you honestly, how they are affected by you and how they truly feel. So, once again, safer people don’t avoid confrontation, they don’t allow themselves to be bullied – instead, they find healthy ways to communicate what’s really going on. Because they have established their acceptance of us, we are able to hear these difficult truths and use them in our transformation process.

Hopefully, this begins to ‘flesh out’ the safer people we need to be looking for and gives you a matrix to evaluate the folks already in your life, the new ones you meet and most of all, yourself! For further study – check out Cloud and Townsend’s excellent book on this subject. Books are wonderful but they don’t hold our hands and walk us through so find a wilderness guide to help you if you’re struggling.

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Every day I’m hustlin’

codependent

codependent

[koh-di-pen-duh nt] 
adjective

1.

of or relating to a relationship in which one person is physically or psychologically
addicted, as to alcohol or gambling, and the other person is psychologically dependent
on the first in an unhealthy way.
noun

2.

one who is codependent or in a codependent relationship.

“Codependent” is so overused at this point and has come to mean just about any version of an unhealthy relationship.  I want to use a different term – one I’m borrowing from Brene Brown’s vernacular…she calls it hustling for love.

I’m referring to this business of denying or minimizing self in order to be, do or say what another person wants.  We take care of things the other should be handling in order to make ourselves indispensable.  We hustle like this because we want to be loved.  We don’t trust that we will be loved as we truly are and so we put on masks, we become something we are not, we enable, in order to be what we think will be loved.  The problem with all of this though is that when love comes our way, only our false self can receive it.  Underneath, our true self never receives love and so we spend our lives unfulfilled and lonely, even in the presence of loving others.

The issue has been top of mind lately due to many conversations with a friend who has been focusing on this in his life.  What we have taken great notice of is the fact that once awareness is gained, once root issues of self worth are tackled, the ultimate step of healing involves doing: engaging relationships from one’s new position of awareness and worth.  But what if you don’t have any “others” in your life, qualified to take the journey with you?  What if you have only gathered others who need a hustler?  Who don’t know what to do with an authentic self?  This is an issue we don’t often see anyone discussing.  All the books and articles focus on what needs to change within us and how to behave differently, but I haven’t found anyone discussing the others.  So here goes:

  • When we begin the work of examining the way we relate to others and the roots of those relational styles, we must also begin the work of identifying the characteristics of healthy “others”.  Many of us have not been exposed to enough examples.
  • We need to also brainstorm where healthy others can be found and begin to position ourselves accordingly.  This may mean new social activities or increased involvement in groups we previously marginalized.
  • We need to communicate every step of our journey to existing, important others in our lives so that they have the opportunity to come along, to adjust to who we are becoming.  If we don’t communicate, we leave them confused, defensive and possibly hurt by our internal changes.
  • “We are not ourselves by ourselves” says Peterson.  These efforts to transform our social circle will go a long way in our own self knowledge as we bring stories from our interactions into counseling.  It is a key experiential aspect of therapy!
  • When we have achieved enough awareness and worked through some of the core issues of self worth, it is time to identify a couple of healthy others in our sphere with whom we can practice being our newly authentic selves.
  • From this point forward, it is all about relating in likely opposite ways to how we have before.  It is intentional and consistent.  This process needs to be a regular topic of counseling so that there is a constant feedback loop for learning.  It is a terrifying challenge but it is the final step in true transformation.  There is no other way to permanently change the meanings we have made of life experiences.  It is a messy business filled with mis-steps requiring honest communication from which to recover.  We may need to make a few changes in who we include in our tribe which then involves a grieving process for the ones who simply do not have what it takes to enter this new territory with us.  The payoff is a level of connection and relational joy we never thought possible.  Benefits that cannot be achieved with solely internal peace and knowledge.

Now it’s your turn…What aspect of mental/emotional health is on your mind these days?  What are you currently wrestling with?  I want this space to be useful!  I’m also considering doing a weekly Facebook Live which will focus on what YOU want to hear about, so give me your feedback.

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Storm Sanity

NOAA National Weather Service National Hurricane Center image of Hurricane Irma approaching Puerto Rico

I live in Orlando and so I am sitting here looking at reports showing Irma’s path headed directly toward us.  As I scan my social media news-feeds and talk to loved ones, it is clear that anxiety is high and coping skills are a must if we don’t want to end up losing a lot of sanity ground by the time this is all over.  I thought it would be helpful to explore ways to maintain our mental/emotional health through this storm.

As soon as you figure out where you will spend the storm – in place, at a shelter, with friends or completely out of town – make a plan for maintaining good sleep, nutrition and exercise habits.  These are the first things to go in circumstances like these…we eat junk food nonstop, barely move and sleep either too much or too little.  It just happens because we get caught up in the urgency of the moments and/or the confusion of the aftermath.  Make sure you have healthy food options on hand, figure out a reasonable sleep schedule you can stick to throughout your stay and brainstorm ways to get some movement in every day – whether it’s using the (non-electric) equipment you have in place, simple calisthenic movements like jumping jacks or adventure walks outside once the storm clears.  Get on Pinterest now while you can to find workout ideas that will work with the circumstances you’re in.

Make sure you have resources and materials in place to manage your emotions.  How do you think you will feel during this experience?  What are the things you normally need when you feel like that?  (Art supplies, journals, stress balls, stuffed animals, pets, etc.?) How can you adjust those strategies to your lock-down situation?  When you are stressed, upset or overwhelmed, you will not have the mental resources to figure these things out.  Do it now so you have a plan to express and manage your emotions.  Here’s a worksheet you may find helpful:

emotion management

This is not the time to play lone ranger.  Reach out.  Arrange to be with others throughout this experience if at all possible.  Don’t assume that family is your only option if you know they drive you crazy on a regular day.  Can you imagine being locked up with them for days in a stressful situation?  Think about your social circle…Who are the healthiest people in your life?  Gravitate to them first.  Yes, take some time each day to be alone…to breathe and to think but make sure you stay connected to share your thoughts and feelings with others.

Finally, pay attention to what you expose your mind to.  Limit time on social media if it is filled with folks in a frenzy.  Watch the news/weather channel only long enough to hear time estimates of the storm’s approach.  Do internet searches for any specific information you may need for your preparation efforts – rather than watching TV endlessly, waiting to learn “everything”.  Avoid conversations with those who will only increase your stress and anxiety about this storm.  Decide now what reasonable truths you need to focus on.  Find resources that will align with those truths – write them down if you have to….whatever you have to do to ensure that what is coming at you repeatedly will be functional, encouraging and helpful!

 

 

 

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Fresh Starts

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Some of us get excited about the new year.  We see it as a new chapter in our books: a blank page, a clean slate.  Others are so sick of the “new year, new you” grandiosity that emerges this time of year.  We cast cynical eyes at the bright-eyed hopefuls…mentally calculating how long it will take them to fall back to the bottom of the same pits they’ve lived in for years.  Social media is full of commentary on ‘new year resolutions’ – some encouraging, some disparaging and some offering a ‘third way’ perspective.  Where do you fall on the continuum?

Regardless of your stance, there is a reason that humanity so consistently gravitates toward new year rituals.  I believe we are naturally wired to operate seasonally.  A brief look at nature shows us this rhythm: each year there is soil preparation, planting, hope, watering, weeding, harvesting, barrenness and then new beginnings.  In the winter, the farmer assesses the previous year’s experience, using that information to plan out the next year’s crops.  Seeds are ordered and excitement begins to build toward the possibilities next summer.  Is it any coincidence that those same activities seem natural to us in the middle of winter (New Year’s Day)?  Seems to me that adopting a crotchety attitude toward all of this is rather fruitless (no pun intended 🙂 ).  Thus, we have a choice: do we jump on the bandwagon of renewal or do we sit it out with the assumption that nothing ever changes anyway?

I’m a counselor so I’m sure it’s no mystery where I fall.  My entire field is about transformation so any excuse to move toward that is something to be excited about in my world.  I believe the key is realism.  I think this is where the bandwagon falls apart – we spend December in a whirlwind of comparison.  The holidays ramp up the social media highlight reel, making it that much easier to look at our own lives through a distorted lens which inspires a long laundry list of all that is wrong.  We spend December mentally beating ourselves up and by the 31st, we have created a herculean plan for life overhaul which we enthusiastically proclaim and begin on the 1st.  Only to fall flat before the first month of the year is done 😦 .  Yeah….let’s not do that again.

Again, realism is key.  It is now the third day of the year.  I’ll assume we’ve basically come down from the high of the first day and we may already be casting skeptical eyes at our resolutions.  Before you abandon ship, could we explore some adjustments?  I’d like to offer a few suggestions:

  • Resolutions are goals.  They are nice for painting the destination but they don’t necessarily give us any idea how to get there.  We need to define action steps.
  • If you made more than one resolution, may I suggest that you choose just one?  What is most important to you?  Focus is vital!
  • Reflect on 2016.  What happened in this area of your life?  What were the specific things that held you back in this area?  Make a list of those factors.
  • For each item on the list – what specific action will you need to take to conquer that obstacle?  What routines will you need to develop in order to reprogram the way you typically operate?  What rewards do you need to set up to reinforce these new behaviors?  Break things down into a list of small, specific steps.
  • Break our your calendar/planner (paper or electronic) and start mapping out those specific steps throughout the entire year.  Spread out the steps so that you are doing no more than one new thing each week.  Don’t take everything on at once!  Stagger out the steps over time so that you make changes gradually – giving yourself enough time to establish each new step before moving to the next one.
  • Ideally, it is best if you schedule the steps at a particular time/day but at the very least, record a reminder on a particular day of the week (or repeated every day of that week if needed).  Consider setting alarms on your phone to remind you of things you need to do.
  • While you’re at it – schedule a monthly check in now to assess how you’re doing: what’s working and what needs to change.
  • What resources can you turn to for maintaining hope throughout the year?  (Magazines, Facebook pages, blogs, devotionals, etc.)  Sign up for those now so it is automatic.
  • Who can you enlist as an accountability partner/encourager?  Talk to them now and agree on specific contact: weekly phone call/text/Facebook message?  Consider including that person in your monthly check ins to help you assess and stay on track.

Transformation is extremely difficult but it is definitely possible.  As we’ve discussed before in this space, it is nearly impossible to do alone though so if you find yourself struggling to stay the course, if you can’t find effective support – please consider counseling.  Good therapy is one of the best ways to pursue renewal so don’t flounder alone!

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The great adventure!

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Last week, we discussed expressive therapy.  This week, I wanted to discuss a related modality – adventure therapy!  This form of therapy is also active and experiential and utilizes a similar focus on process.  Clients engage in fun activities like ropes courses, rock climbing, kayaking, etc., in the presence of the therapist.  In expressive therapy, I explained that the product was not the center – the process is.  Similarly, with adventure therapy – the activity itself is not the center which means that the possibilities are endless.  What matters is that therapist and client choose an activity that offers some challenge, either physically or psychologically, to be overcome.  It is in facing this challenge and working through it together that transformation happens.  Your therapist is able to observe the way in which you approach the activity and offer encouragement along the way.  They take note of what emerges verbally and non-verbally.  After the activity, therapist and client discuss  the process to identify both the conscious and unconscious meanings.  The goal is to transfer the lessons learned during the activity into the life challenges faced.  It is one thing to discuss solutions and new perspectives.  It is another level entirely to actually apply new perspectives to novel challenges – providing an experiential testing ground.  There is an undeniable power in such tangible evidence..making it far more likely that you will actually apply what has been learned.

Like expressive therapy – adventure therapy bypasses the typical defenses we have in place for traditional verbal communication.  Participating in a novel activity opens us up in ways conversation alone cannot.  Though the research on neurological effects is sparse, it is reasonable to deduce that this form of therapy also utilizes unique areas of the brain, leading to results not achieved when sitting in a chair.  We have already proven that exposure to nature has profound healing effects on depression, anxiety and ADHD.  With most of these sessions happening outside, we have a double benefit.  Certainly, it is also interesting to consider how the physical activity of adventure therapy may bring healing to physiologically stored trauma.  In the end though, I once again emphasize the relationship between client and therapist as the safe container within which this work must occur if it is to be effective!  We’re excited to be looking at ways we can incorporate adventure therapy in the practice here at Phenix.  We believe these modalities, combined with the relational foundation of our therapeutic approach offer a powerful combination for healing and transformation.

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