Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Expert Within

Our family has slated tours of several colleges onto our spring calendar, and my son is logging hours in an after-school class to prepare for the ACT test. We are about to embark on a journey dotted with questions, marked by difficult choices. Other parents, teachers, and college advisors are stressing the importance of choosing the "right" school, suggesting that the college my son attends could mean the difference between almost-certain career success, and having to claw his way into his field from a one-down position. When I was college-shopping myself 25 years ago, my most important criteria were location, affordability and frankly, whoever would accept me. Now, the competition for admission appears fierce, and the pressure to choose "wisely" is so intense, that we almost lost sight of the one constant that trumps all others-- trusting ourselves.

The Truth Is IN There
Our family has weighed the opinions and wisdom of the experts, and we have invested our energy in educating ourselves about our son's college options. But, as in any decision, I've reminded my son that HE knows himself better than anyone else. HE knows his passions, his priorities, his needs and wants. What might be the "optimal" college for networking with top players in his dream field may not offer him the social justice opportunities or the spiritual sustenance that he values as highly. The "renowned" faculty may not be able to provide him with the personal, mentoring relationships that help him most to thrive. While my son has talent and ambition for his art, he also prioritizes giving back to his community. I've reminded myself, and my son, that HIS "right" choice will reveal itself if he just pays attention and listens--not to the "experts", but to the truth within himself. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Practice of Gratitude

Cognitive behavioral interventions are some of the most common, and most effective, tools we use to teach clients to manage their depressive symptoms. Addressing mistaken beliefs, meditation and deep breathing exercises, and replacing negative scripts help clients to feel more hopeful, gain perspective and  a sense of control and competency. But one of the most powerful practices I've ever recommended is also deceptively simple: a gratitude journal.

Counting Your Blessings 
My first introduction to the concept of a gratitude list was in Sarah Ban Breathnach's book, Simple Abundance. She suggests recording three to five events or moments each day to "retrain" ourselves to see the grace and beauty in everyday life. News of tragedies, natural disasters, crimes and catastrophic illness flood our awareness through television, newspapers, social media outlets. We can easily become accustomed to expecting the worst, or even numbing to the pain we see around us. But taking a few moments at the end of each day to record positive moments can help lift the veil of pessimism. I suggest clients notice their  "unremarkable" good fortune--finding the closest parking spot during a rainstorm, the gurgling baby ahead in the grocery line, the smell of fresh laundry, the feel of a new pair of socks. By focusing on the spots of sunlight in the everyday, we realize that gratitude is a daily choice, that our blessings surround us in boundless ways. We would all be overjoyed to win the lottery or survive a car accident. But the smallest moments are constant opportunities to notice, to appreciate, to be reminded of just how lucky we really are. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

All the (Therapy) World's a Stage

"Why does therapy have to be HARD?" I empathize deeply when clients ask this question.  Indeed, therapy can be difficult, scary, exhausting and confusing. Clients exhibit great courage when they are willing to dig deep, to be vulnerable, to feel and examine feelings and experiences that they may much rather hide or avoid. I am not a believer in the "unavoidable necessity" of reliving trauma, or in advocating that the only path to healing is to brave through, yet again, life moments that tore us asunder the first time around. But I do know that therapy asks of us to be honest with ourselves, to face our truths (even if they are messy or ugly or unpalatable to others) and through that examination, to develop an understanding of and compassion for ourselves that helps bring value, purpose and even peace to our lives.

Comedy, Romance, and Thrillers 
The therapy hour may not always be a somber place. My office has been the stage for some of the most hilarious stories I have ever heard. I have laughed with clients until tears ran down my face, and we were left wheezing for breath. I've hooted and hollered in celebration of clients' successes, and beamed with joy when I've been lucky enough to meet a client's newborn baby, or to gush over an engagement ring. Therapy is never simple, but the "hardness" of therapy doesn't automatically mean deep pain or reliving old agonies. If the timing is right, the fit  between client and therapist is flexible and connected, productive therapy through difficult terrain more closely resembles the soreness of a good workout. We may feel spent, tender, a little out of breath and perhaps surprised by our efforts. But we also feel accomplished, courageous and proud that we faced, discovered or spoke our truths without turning away. Human beings are resilient creatures. And therapy can be a forum to safely and cooperatively do the "hard" work of mining our psyches and our souls, and unearthing power and potential we never dreamed we contained. A worthy payoff, indeed.