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Category Archives: Therapy and therapists

What do you do for a meaning?

I’ve had a couple of topics waiting, and they’re both going to have to wait a bit longer. I had an interesting thought this afternoon, and by this evening it had grown into a full-fledged reflection, and is on its way to maybe even achieving the status of an understanding.

I was considering the phrase ‘what I do for a living’.  I dislike this phrase. I dislike most variations and most meanings of this phrase. ‘What do you do for a living?’ is often one of the first things people ask when meeting someone new, and it’s just as often not very relevant.

What someone does for a living is specifically what they do that generates enough money to pay the bills, buy the groceries, keep clothes and soap and maybe even a new lip-gloss available. It’s just what it says – it’s a way of keeping up the bits and pieces that allow someone to survive.  It’s also as likely as not to have little to do with someone’s passions, dreams, interests, what they put their heart and soul and energy into. People can work in a job simply because it’s a job. They could have a trust fund, be disabled, or so many ways to try to make ends meet.

‘What do you do for a meaning?’  Why aren’t we asking that?  When I’m introduced to someone, why don’t they want to know what I do for a meaning?

My friend M, for example, works for a large office-supply chain. She makes a decent wage, insurance, all of that. And it’s not at all her passion. She loves food. Finding new restaurants, comparing different recipes for similar dishes, seeking out authentic ethnic food or great places to buy particular ingredients; those are all things she’s passionate about. She writes about it in a blog. Filling orders for paper and desk chairs is what she does for a living. Discovering restaurants and comparing dishes is what she does for a meaning. A meaning is so much more.

I was thinking of that as I left my therapist’s office today (always a good thing when your therapist can make you think!).  I was mentally composing a self-description that included ‘I’m a counselor for a living’.  And then it occurred to me that that statement doesn’t really fit me at all.

(Before I go any further, I do need to add a disclaimer for people who are, have been, or will be my clients. It is NOT your job to make sure I am making enough to live on. We agree on a fee, insurance, whatever; and that’s that. That is not what this post is about.  Yes, building up a business is not the easiest thing to do, but it’s what I’ve chosen to do. I’ve also had repeated opportunities to work for more hours in a per-hour or salary position. That isn’t what I want, and I’m doing okay.)  So moving on…

I am not a counselor, therapist, or any similar term ‘for a living’. A small part of that is, yes, that I don’t (yet!) make enough to live in the style to which I’d love to be accustomed – or even to maintain my own lifestyle now. That’s okay. I do make enough to add to the household budget, I’m married to someone who makes more than I do right now. Together, we do make enough.  But that’s not the main reason this term doesn’t fit.

In fact, that’s really not the reason the term ‘for a living’ doesn’t fit. The main reason is that it doesn’t matter how much I make, I’m not doing it ‘for a living’.  I, like most counselors, have to charge something to be able to afford to be a counselor – but I’m not doing it ‘for a living’.

I am a counselor for a meaning. There are dozens of things I could do to pay for groceries and cat food and insurance and petrol for the car and making sure I have a place to live. I could probably get a job in the same company as M, my friend above. If I needed to, I would.

What do you do for a meaning?  I like this question so, so much better. I happen to do at least one of the things I do for a meaning to make that ‘for a living’ part work as well. I think that makes me lucky, but I don’t think everyone would agree with me. I know that I specifically chose not to do several other things that are meaningful and enjoyable for regular pay or on much of a schedule, because I knew that that would take the meaning out for me.

I do many kinds of art. I paint, sew, make jewelry, do calligraphy, work with clay, do henna art… and several of these things would stop having meaning for me if I did them ‘for a living’. If I were a professional calligrapher, for example, I would most likely be employed writing out endless invitations, addresses, and certificates. The joy I take in putting an important or beautiful text onto a page in beautiful writing, adding lovely or cute or amusing art alongside, would be completely smothered as I ticked off another 50 envelopes.

What do you do for a meaning? I am an artist, a dancer, a counselor, a friend, a gardener, a reader…

What do I do for a meaning? One of the things I do is counseling. I love it. It’s a very important, very meaningful part of my life. I feel like I make a difference. I’m honoured to have people who let me see their struggles & triumphs and to provide a helping hand. That’s a major thing for me. That has meaning.

What do you do for a meaning?  Regardless of what you do to pay the bills, what do you do for a meaning? The IRS can worry about what you do for a living?  I’m changing that question for myself. I’m also daring you to ask. At the next party, the next time you’re meeting a the significant other a relative or friend brings along, the next time you get together with people you don’t know, ask what they do for a meaning.  Then explain what the heck you meant. And then, LISTEN. It’s amazing how great it feels to have someone listen to what you’re passionate about!

If you’re okay replying, tell me what people have said. There’s plenty of room to post replies here!  What do you do for a meaning?  What does the person you met the other day do? What’s meaningful in this world?

 

 

 

 

 

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Don’t stress about it (I just might take that advice)

Today I was supposed to pick up some stuff from a colleague. Just a few things for me, not something that had to be transported immediately from one person to another or a major part of my job – just personal. This isn’t a ‘several times a day’ kind of thing, but it does happen a lot in my job. People have stuff, need to get stuff out of their space and given to people who can use stuff, stuff is exchanged.

Mind you, I don’t want someone reading this to go into a career in counseling or a related field on the basis of getting stuff. (From what I’ve heard, try being anyone famous for that. Bonus points for famous and someone who makes regular comments about stuff on the computer, radio, or TV.)  But anyhow, while counseling, social work, and the like are not professions filled with free wardrobes or being able to specify what colour of candy in your trailer, they do tend to get you ‘stuff’ on a regular basis.

Some examples:I have a tote bag from my supervisor – she went to a training, was given assorted items with the logos of the businesses sponsoring the training, and didn’t have a use for the bag. I never run out of pens or post-it notes, as long as I’m willing to use ones with ‘Eating Disorder Centers’ or ‘Behavioral Health Services’ blazoned on them, because they give this kind of thing away by the handful at trainings. I got a whole set of leather coasters once at a workshop because the guy giving them away was packing up and didn’t want to have to take a ton of them back (I’ve been decoupaging the labels from really cool drinks onto them). I get stuff.

When perishable items or simply a huge amount of items are given to shelters, counseling centers, housing centers, etc; things that are left over get given to the people who work & volunteer there. (I once left a shelter with as many loaves of bread as I could carry – and then gave some to a homeless guy at the corner where I turned off of the interstate.  So it gets to the people who need it -just maybe by an interesting route 😉  )

Just a note here, please, PLEASE don’t stop donating on the basis that therapists end up with ‘stuff’!  No matter what you have to give, someone can use it. (Except maybe germs. Every winter there’s way too many colds & flus going around every shelter & safehouse & counseling center I know of. We all have plenty of germs. If you think you have a really unusual one, contact the CDC.)  Everything else, though, can be used. Bread & beach balls, lip gloss & lotion, diapers, tires, bus passes – ever considered giving a half-used member ship to the zoo or museum or gym to a safehouse if you’re moving and it still has half a year on it?  A lot of places could make that work for someone!

DO check first – some places don’t take items x, y,or z – they partner with the place down the street who has the room or the freezers or whatever. But we can use anything – except germs.

The thing is, stuff like those loaves of bread expire pretty quickly. Sunscreen & make-up take longer, but they still go off after a while. And we can’t tell you if we’re going to have 87 women who all need ‘coppery sand’ face powder, for example,  or only two or three.  So when things have been given to as many people in need as possible and there’s extra stuff, counselors and caseworkers and the wonderful fantastic people who make the computers keep working and manage the front desk and whoever else get offered stuff.  And your donation is still helping someone. Not having to buy bread for two weeks PLUS giving some to the guy I passed at the corner?  Major help that month!

So I was supposed to meet up with a colleague today to pick up some stuff. I said I could probably adjust my schedule just fine to meet up with her. Until this morning, when my schedule started going a bit sideways. Schedules do that sometimes.  I’m usually pretty relaxed when it happens to other people. I know it happens to everyone. But when it happens to me, it bothers me.

Part of it is that I were left to my own devices I wouldn’t have such a thing as a schedule. In my heart I want to live in a time and place where sun or clouds, warm or cool, day, night, impulse and inspiration drive me, and not just me, but everyone.  I’d love, as I believe I’ve mentioned before, to be the wise woman at the edge of the village. I’d tend my gardens and create my art and when people needed advice or a shoulder to cry on or emotional guidance, they would come out my way, carrying a basket of fruit or a jug of milk or a few eggs or a loaf of bread in payment. And I’d set aside whatever I was doing, or maybe just continue weeding or kneading bread or whatever, and we’d talk.

I’m actually trying to do some of that.  I’m happier when I work on my garden on good garden days, paint on good painting days, bake or make jewelry or go for a walk when it feels right to do those things.  I’m even working on having counseling clients sit outside with me (although not this week, it’s been snowy, blowy, and drippy). I’m working on the idea of clients going for a walk, or how people would feel if they & I worked on knitting or embroidery while we talked. (Although if I’m writing stuff down or drawing a kinda stick-figure version of the brain or something, I need both hands, and my whiteboard.)  And when I’m guiding a client through an art exercise, there are times when I get to do art, too; although it’s whatever supports or guides their project, it’s still art!

But the time and place I live in also requires schedules. The hotline run by the local domestic violence organization is staffed 24 hours. That means for me, and all of us who staff it, there has to be a schedule. Twenty people available on Tuesday and no one on Saturday would NOT be ’24 hour’.  It would also be kinda hard to stuff twenty people into the office, or even into two or three offices!

If I’m going to meet with a client, they deserve to have the time for themselves. And since I live in an area much larger and more occupied  than a village, if I decide to go to the store, it’s not very likely that a client will see me go past and wait until I’m on the way home to come out to my office. So I have schedules, and appointments, and even a clock.

If I’m meeting with a group; leading a group, or as a member of a counselors’ support or supervision or educational meeting, or going to yoga or dance, or any group of people, then we all have to meet at the same place, at the same time. We all have to work around individual clients (if we have them) or other groups or staffing the 24-hour phone line or driving clients from point A to point B or whatever we do.  We have to work all of that around errands and families and social occasions and the very important ways we take care of ourselves.  No matter how perfect the day is for a walk along the creek or to stay in with a cup of cocoa, there are some things that have to be scheduled.

I also tend toward being the type of person who tries to take care of everyone else first.  Alongside that need to follow the patterns of the seasons and the weather and my own interests is a strong belief that I should be taking care of you. If there’s a meeting of people, and I don’t strictly have to be at the meeting but it’s the best time to hand out the extra stuff (you never know – I could get more post-its!), then I should manage my schedule to be there, not have you manage to meet me. (Not always. I know. I’m working on it.)

Sometimes, that’s hard. This morning, when I realized scheduling was going to be pretty difficult today, I e-mailed the person in charge to apologize. (Something I’ve come to realize is that people work best with changes in plans if you tell them as early as possible.) I let her know that my schedule wasn’t quite as workable as it seemed the other day when I said I could be there. I said that I didn’t mind coming by to pick things up at another time, but I didn’t want her to feel pressured – she could give it to someone else, instead.

Her return e-mail simply said that she could leave the things in a space in the staff area for me to pick up later, and not to stress about it. “Don’t stress about it.”  What a fantastic sentence. At the intersection of various angles of self-care, care for others, things I need to do, things I want to do, things I said I’d do, things others need to do: ‘Don’t stress about it’.

She meant that this particular errand could be done without each of us having to match times perfectly, but I’m hearing it more deeply.  I’m coming up on having people over for a holiday dinner. I need to tidy up the house. I have things to do for my work. I have things to do for myself. I have things I need to do before I can do other things.  Don’t stress about it.

I need to be reminded of this quite often. As much as I want to live in harmony with myself and my world, I tend to think everyone else needs their needs met first, and it can be stressful. Don’t stress about it. I suspect quite a few other people need to be reminded about this, too. I wonder what would happen if we all reminded each other a bit more. Come over when you can; don’t stress about it. Get that finished as you’re able; don’t stress about it. Happy holidays; don’t stress about it.

I wonder how that would work as a closing in an e-mail or on the phone? Thank you. I appreciate it. I love you. Sincerely. Don’t stress about it.

I just might give it a try as a closing in some of my communications. But I’ll try not to stress about it.

 

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Seeds of life

A bit of a conversation with a client a few days ago and a bit of a conversation last week with my spouse came together in my brain as a new idea – or at least new to me.  I’m quite willing to believe others have had most of the same ideas I have, and have expressed them much better, but it’s still cool to have a new way for me to look at the world, and to share it with others.

Simply expressed (in 25 words or less): Dreams are the seeds we use to grow our lives.

To elaborate on that, in well over 25 words: I’m referring to dreams as in daydreams or hopes, wishes, or wondering; not dreams as in the rather surreal movies most of us watch throughout our sleep cycles. Obviously I can’t tell you about the conversation with the client, it comes under the ethical and legal right for my clients – for ALL counseling clients, with ALL counselors, to have their information and communication kept private. But it had to do with dreams, and the conversation with my spouse had to do with choice versus predestination.

(Note: If you’re having an issue with a therapist keeping your info private, that’s a different topic from this post, but it’s an important one. If that’s you, I urge you to talk to your therapist, or to talk to a different therapist to get an outside opinion, or to look up your state’s regs & state &/or therapy organization ethical codes to see if your therapist’s treatment of your privacy is acceptable.)

Sorry – that was definitely a digression, but an important one, in my opinion. In any case, after my talk with my client, I started thinking about dreams as seeds.  To give a bit more background info; one of my personal-care, stress-relieving, taking-care-of-me hobbies is gardening.  My garden, like my life, is a work-in-progress. Like my life, there are areas that I thought would work splendidly that are kinda dry or droopy, areas that I didn’t really think would work so well that are amazing, and areas that I just haven’t yet achieved the beautiful, show-off state they’ll be in one day.

A lot of my garden is based on what I call ‘confetti gardening’.  (Who knows – maybe one day I’ll write a book on my gardening methods and have it be a best-seller on ‘Confetti Gardening’ – so you heard it here first!).  I love to gather seeds from wildflowers I enjoy – if they’re growing wild in the same part of the world I live in, there’s a good chance they’ll do well in my garden!  I gather seeds from plants grown by friends & neighbours.  I discreetly gather seeds from plants in community flowerbeds or local areas of greenery in front of stores, downtown, by the library… By ‘discreetly’, I mean that finding someone with the authority to say ‘why yes, go ahead’ is really difficult in many cases – does the manager of any store in a shopping area know who is in charge of planting & caring for the little decorative flower & shrubbery areas throughout the parking lot?  Sometimes I can’t ask, but I also don’t, Do Not go out & rip up plants.  I wait until a group of flowers I like has finished blooming & started going to seed. Then I gather a few seed heads or loose seeds and take them back home.  The gardening services for these areas typically come through and ‘deadhead’ – cut the dead flowers off the plants – at intervals. So I take what isn’t needed for the plant, and only if I can’t find someone to ask.  If you plan to emulate this strategy, be SURE you know when the plant has really gone to seed, only take a little bit, and if you have any questions or misgivings, don’t do it unless you can find someone for permission.

I gather seeds from gardens of strangers – with permission!  A personal garden isn’t like a decorative planting in a space in the sidewalk downtown. A personal garden belongs to someone. ASK if you  want some seeds. They’ll likely be delighted to give you some – and you might make a new friend and start swapping plants & gardening advice, but ASK!!!

Back to my confetti gardening, I take the seeds (bought, traded, harvested) that I want or hope will do well in a particular space, and sprinkle them down.  Yes, I do start some carefully in small pots, yes, I get cuttings of plants and I buy growing plants, but a lot of my garden is from seeds I toss in areas they just might do well in.  And then I wait. Several years ago I carefully planted some lovely dark pansy seeds in a particular flower bed. Nothing happened. No pansies from those seeds grew that spring, or summer. The next spring (yes, after a whole previous spring of care, a summer of not bothering to care for a space that didn’t have a plant, a fall of caring for other, actually growing plants, and a cold freezing snowy winter) one of the pansies sprouted. And it bloomed. It did better than a pack of pansies purchased already in bloom from the store. This spring it came back (the ones I plated from the store pack didn’t).  Seeds work like that.

These are a lot like my dreams – and I hope, like everyone’s dreams. We dream the likely (I’d REALLY like to get a couple new outfits for work soon), and the plausible (I want to start taking regular bellydance classes again).  We dream the maybe (Wouldn’t it be cool to get to go on a white-water rafting trip) and we dream the way out there (What if I adopted a kitten with wings?).  These dreams are the seeds of life. They get tossed out into life – hoping to buy a new outfit without spending too much and maybe go on a cool trip and how the heck would I keep my indoor plants safe if I did have a winged kitten – and we see what happens.

Some of them sprout. Some start to sprout but aren’t in a good place to be nourished. Some aren’t viable no mater what. Some wait and surprise us long after we thought anything could still happen.  The more dreams, the more possibilities of new, interesting parts of life are available.  There are easy, obvious parts of life, and the dreams that sprout and grow so large & take up so much space that other dreams might not get as much of a chance.  My own sprouting career as a counselor is definitely taking up space that an alternate dream of being a rock-star can’t use now; it’s hard to be available every week to talk to clients and touring Europe with a bunch of musicians in a cramped tour bus at the exact same time. 😉

Some dreams end up requiring more care than we can put into them.  The reason I prefer seeds from established plants is that I know they’ll have a better chance of growing in my garden. I want plants to be beautiful & growing well and I’m not the sort who wants to be out making a separate little climate for each plant.  I live in Southern Colorado along the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Summers are usually dry, winters get snow, and have days that dip below 0* Fahrenheit. Rain is wildly different from one year to the next, and I prefer to semi-xerisacpe, where my plants get nearly all of their moisture & climate needs from the climate we have, not from carefully covering, watering, shading, warming…

My life is the same way. I’m willing to do a lot for a dream that matters, but it has to be giving back to me, and sustaining itself as a part of my life.  When I get those new clothes for work, they need to be comfortable to wear, and coordinate with things I already have, and fit who I am – physically and emotionally and suited to my lifestyle.  My dream of perfectly polished fingernails clashes with my dream of spending time working the garden regularly.  Some seeds don’t grow well next to others.

The large, established ‘plants’ in my life (my marriage, my house, the years I put into my college degree) and the ‘climate’ of my life (having a chronic illness, a passion for art & creating, my values & spiritual beliefs) strongly affect what new dreams can more easily take root & grow. This is the part that relates so well to the conversation my spouse & I had. We were comparing free will to destined events. He pointed out that previous choices direct what happens in the future.  It’s not impossible to change course, but the older & more experienced you get, the more energy it takes to make a radical change.  At the time he said this, we had just taken the ramp off of a street onto the freeway (car rides are awesome for personal conversations. You’re basically a captive audience for each other, there’s not a whole lot else to do, and there are time limits, depending on how far you’re going).  It was a wonderful serendipitous analogy. We were swerving onto the southbound ramp (Onto I-25 off of Colfax, for those who drive in Denver), every second getting further from the northbound option. It would have taken a heck of a lot more time, energy, and fussing with side-streets if we’d suddenly decided to turn & head north.  Our journey south wasn’t ‘predestined’, but once we turned, it would have been a LOT harder to go north, especially given the roads in that particular area.

Taking it back around to seeds, or dreams: Growing one plant determines the likely success of others. I have a beautiful blue spruce in my front yard. It was probably planted when the house was built – it’s certainly been there for decades. It’s beautiful, it’s growing well, and I have no desire to change that!  My spruce is big enough and established enough that it quite literally foreshadows what else will grow nearby. Planting seeds that need full sun too close to the tree strongly ‘predestines’ those plants to do poorly.  A few feet further away where it doesn’t cast so much shade, the same seeds have a much better chance.  And it’s possible that a few could defy the odds and grow happily in the shade anyhow – but not as likely.

If I wanted to change that aspect of my garden (and I do NOT want to do this, this is strictly for sake of an example) even taking out the tree wouldn’t simply change things for the garden.  Spruce trees, like most evergreens, are slightly acidic. The needles & cones that fall every year put some of that acidic quality in the soil.  Some plants, like roses & blueberries, LIKE acidic soil.  If I get the chance to grow blueberries, I should either put them near the tree or scoop up some of the fallen needles to amend the soil for the blueberries.  But other plants don’t like acidic soil so much. If I had seeds for a plant that strongly disliked acidic soil, I’d likely not get much growth from planting them near my tree, even if they liked the shade and the other characteristics of the soil. Even if the tree was gone, the soil would be very acidic after years and years of needles composting into the soil around it.  The tree is more than just shade, it’s soil structure, water use, and shelter from wind & rain.

My dreams are the same way. I cast them out into my life, and some get too close to shade, or don’t like the place they land. Some don’t even try to grow until conditions improve. Some break down or blow out of my life entirely. Some need to be consciously moved or tended to, and some take too much work.  Some are even ones I can pass along!  I was given a beautiful ring in a previous relationship. When we broke up, I didn’t want to wear the ring anymore, but it was a perfect style and great fit for my sister-in-law. I hope she’s still enjoying it as much as she did when I gave it to her!

I don’t always, or even often, know just what a seed or a dream will need to thrive. Plenty of times I only find out some detail when it’s too late to change it.  I had a lousy crop of potatoes last year, and found out this past February when reading about companion planting in the garden that potatoes don’t do well near squash. My zucchini were right next to the potatoes! So it goes.

So it goes. Companions and light and shade and nutrients. Direction and size and competition for resources. Only one thing in one space – the next one has to be moved over at least a bit. This is why I want myself, my clients, everyone I know to have many, many dreams. Some won’t grow, and you may never know why. Some may be perfect for the space under a tree, next to a squash, or in a sunny corner; but those things can change.  Dream many, many dreams. Collect spare ones from books and music and conversation. Harvest new dreams from successful ones that are thriving.  Toss them into your life now, or wait until the time seems right, or carefully nurture them on sunny windowsills until they’re big enough to make it on their own. I don’t want to have nothing left to plant if my career became unmanageable, or if someone close to me passes on or moves away –  I’d rather be able to mourn the loss but still be able to plant more seeds.  Always plant more seeds… always plant more dreams.

 

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Wow! It’s been a while :)

Wow! It’s been a while :)

Hello everyone.  So it’s been nearly a month – oh my!  I’ll get some longer posts out soon; but for today, no, I haven’t forgotten everyone.  I’ve been adjusting my schedule, I’ve had the opportunity to go to some workshops and trainings and similar things (most counselors go to several trainings, workshops, symposiums, and similar gatherings ever year.  We want to know more, we want to treat our clients more effectively, and, yes, I thin every state and country requires ongoing education – although most of us would go even if it wasn’t required. We really do like this or we wouldn’t be doing it!.

So I’ll pull myself back to my computer a little bit more frequently in the upcoming weeks and continue with posts on trust, tell you what’s going on with me, and write about anything else that comes to mind 🙂

 

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Trust, distrust, mistrust – what’s it made of, anyhow?

Trust has been coming up a lot for me lately. (You may have noticed this if you read my previous post.) I’m not at all surprised. Trust is something we all deal with; and we don’t get to just learn it once and maybe stop in for a refresher course every 10 to 20 years. No, trust is something that comes up in every relationship, in all kinds of circumstances, in nearly every interaction. Trust is at work when we go ahead and go because the light is green and that means that the people coming on the other street should have a red light and honour it and stop. When I stop to think about how many times and places I have to trust someone I’ve never even met just to drive to the store, to mail a letter, to order a pizza… yes, trust comes up all over the place, all the time.

Since it does, it’s hardly a surprise that trust is going to come up pretty regularly in conversations with clients. Clients are people. They also drive and shop and send letters and order pizza. They talk to friends and family members and significant others. Trust and distrust are ubiquitous.

Achieving the goal of knowing when to trust, how to trust, who to trust is perhaps not so ubiquitous. Even the most well-adjusted, emotionally healthy person on the planet is going to have times where they feel mistrust, or trust when they shouldn’t, or wonder if their trust is being abused.   (I’m also pretty convinced that the most well-adjusted, emotionally healthy person on the planet spends most of their time hiding out somewhere trying to avoid those of us who are not nearly as sane and balanced.) So I think I can say that most of my clients are just like me in this. They aren’t always balanced, they have issues, they wonder if they’re doing things right. We all do.

They’re also like me in that they don’t just wonder, they go to therapy, they talk and write and paint and move and think and journal and share their way through those issues. They have the guts to confront their fears and shadows and imperfections. To all my clients, and me, who also sees a therapist, and everyone else out there in therapy: Way to go Us!!! Therapy is not ubiquitous, even when it should be.

One of the things that people in and out of therapy work on is trust. So just what is trust? How do we break it down to knowing when something feels trustworthy and when it doesn’t? Is it a feeling? A reaction? A thought?

There are a lot of answers out there, but I’m taking it down to a simple definition. Trust is a state of congruence.

Trust is not specifically an emotion. Emotions come in many shades and strengths and variations (sort of like paint – there may be a future post embedded in that thought 😉 ). But taken down to basics, emotions come in roughly five or six types. Glad, Sad, Mad (I like starting those out that way because they rhyme); then Fear, Shame, and if you want a sixth, Alone. Each of these can be big or small, can be healthy or unhealthy, can be separate or combined with other emotions. Emotions are immediate responses from the brain whenever we run into circumstances that set them off. They are, among other things, like little areas that light up to warn us of what’s happening.

Trust isn’t an emotion, because it has more thinking and assessing in it. But it’s not just a thought, because many of us, myself included, go with gut feelings or reactions we can’t fully define in determining trust. Trust includes input from all of these.

Trust is congruence. We all have sets input: thoughts, feelings, memories, and information about any particular situation. When current information, past memories, thoughts, and feelings about a particular person or idea or topic all agree and support each other, we tend to trust that person or situation quite a lot. When our thoughts and feelings and different pieces of information and memory are all in conflict about something or someone, we tend to distrust quite a lot.

Most of the time we have small amounts of incongruence on any particular topic. Information, emotion, and thoughts might match up, but old memories aren’t in agreement. A situation makes us feel both thrilled and excited (both of which are variations on glad or happy) and nervous and worried (variations on scared). We have nothing but positive information and facts, but something feels wrong or off. Each of these situations has places where input just isn’t agreeing.

It’s not comfortable to just sit around without deciding what to do about anything, and it certainly isn’t productive, so we find ways to weigh the input so it’s easier to clearly trust and go forward, or distrust and stop. Knowing where memories come from and why is one way to solve the dilemma. If a review in the news, a friend, and an advertisement all say that a restaurant is good, the smells and sights are appetizing, the menu has foods I like; but the past three times I’ve gone out to eat I really disliked the food; I’m weighing current information, thoughts, and emotions against memories. Assuming that the memories aren’t of the same restaurant, I’m likely to decide to try trusting it. But if my memories are of that particular place, those memories weight a lot more, and just might outvote everything else.

There are times when people know they will be scared of something they want – stage fright or anxiety about a job interview are great examples. Many people refuse to allow their feelings of fear to make the decision. Others are too scared anyhow. Of all the kinds of input, emotions and physical feelings have the strongest immediate force.

There are thousands of examples I could put here, but they all boil down to the same result. Conflicting information results in mistrust. Deciding how to act on trust or mistrust requires knowledge of self and knowledge of outside sources. Regardless of the strength of the input, how realistic it is matters a great deal.

When I work with an adult survivor of childhood abuse, I can guarantee that their memories of childhood will be incongruent with any other input. Even if a survivor is assessing a situation involving the people who perpetrated abuse, their own situation is different. I am a survivor. My memories tell me that my abusers are all adults with a lot of power, that they are all larger than me, and that I am always small and have no power of my own. That was true then, but it isn’t true now. I can acknowledge my fears and honour them; but they aren’t an accurate source of information for situations now.

Instead, I have to consider what I know to be true now. I know that I am an adult. I know I’ve taken courses in self defense. I know that I have a lot of people who have heard my story and believe me. I know that I can ask a friend to come with me if I’m worried. I know that I can make sure I have a way to leave at any time, have a cell phone programmed to dial a friend, and talk to other people to make a decision. I have a lot of power and choices now that I didn’t have as a child.

Many times, the decision to trust or not trust gets way more complex than this, of course. But the basis of trust is the same. When all or most of the input matches up, we feel like we can trust the situation. Even when all the input is saying this is a very bad idea, we can trust – we trust ourselves to get out fast! When input is confusing and conflicting, we feel mistrust, and it is hard to know who to trust and what to do.

From there, two of the most difficult situations are ones where trust doesn’t matter and ones where trust is misplaced. I’ll follow up on these in future posts, because they each deserve their own discussion. Trust is not always the answer. The answer to trust, however, is still congruence. The next time you find yourself in a trust dilemma, try to separate and identify each piece of input. Then try to determine how much each piece really matters in the situation, and how much each piece itself is true. (It’s one of the reasons therapists like articles and books that have a lot of research and support from other articles and books. Stuff that has a lot of support from other sources is more trustworthy that something that’s one person’s idea. If we’re going to be applying a new idea to actual people who are trying to work through tough issues, we want to be able to trust the information we’re using.)

If you can decide how much each piece of input matters, how strongly it affects you, and how truthful it is, you’ve worked out a lot of how much to trust this situation. You go forward, and you see the results of your decision. Then you can use them to help figure out how much to trust the next thing, and to look back and see if the input you had was worthwhile. That’s the process of learning to trust. It’s not a very easy process, but it’s a very worthwhile one. I wish you good luck and clear thinking in that process and hope you’ll wish some back to me. We’re all on different paths, but we’re all on this journey together.

 

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I hope I don’t see my shadow

I hope I don’t see my shadow

When I look out into my garden, I feel a lot of sympathy with my plants.  In most of the Northern Hemisphere, nearly everything is dormant, resting and waiting. A lot of it is even growing roots, some slowly, some surprisingly quickly. When we have a week like this one, I imagine my plants are just desperate to peek out and feel sun and sky. To grow. Colorado tends to be all over the place, weather-wise.  If you study geology & meteorology it’s because of the mountains. Different kinds of weather roll down the peaks just like water does, so we have weather coming and going rather quickly around here.  If you think a different way, well, the Gods of Weather get a big box of weather delivered each day, and they parcel it out to each area. At the end there’s 5 minutes of rain, a handful of snow, a few cups of wind, a pinch of sun… That all gets mixed and dropped on Colorado; especially the part right along the foothills.

Even without mountains, though, somewhere around the final week of January or the first week of February there’s a warm week or so. A thaw that makes you think spring.  A time that has been known for centuries as a standard part of winter. It’s the thaw that makes groundhogs peek out to see what kind of weather it is, and if the warm week is right around the 2nd, we’ll probably have more snow after. If it’s finished by the 2nd and back to being snowy, maybe it’ll be done sooner. It’s the thaw that makes people impatient to see growth.

I don’t know what day or time to look for any indications of growth for me, but I wish I did.  I, too, am waiting to push through, to leaf out and grow taller.  I can actually label some of my growing roots.  The physician who wants to send some clients my way, but wants to meet first so we’re on the same page… and just had to reschedule.  The organization that I was supposed to meet with on Wednesday who also had to reschedule. A group I’m running that’s in the ‘struggling to get a good day and time worked out’ phase.  A phase that was not helped at all by last week’s weather, which was the kind of snow that made everyone want to stay home and warm, and which made me hope no one did come to group, because I worried about them on the roads. I’m betting there are other roots, too, that I can’t see clearly but are growing all the same.

Lots of roots growing, and I itch to put out shoots, leaves, even flowers.  I don’t know if other therapists feel this way (although I hope they do), but I didn’t choose this for a lot of benefits – it’s not that kind of calling. I chose it, or it chose me, because I need to be there for people. To listen, to walk with them on their journeys, to sit with them when they cry, to laugh with them when they laugh. To explain things in a new way. To teach ways to cope, to express, to grow.  I want to see more clients, work with more groups, go to more retreats or lead more workshops.

Right now, I don’t feel like I’m doing much of that. I know that a good root system is essential to have strong growth. But just like my garden, I’m waiting for warmth to coax me out into growth. I hope I don’t see my shadow next Monday, so that my own spring gets here faster. I’m ready for more leaves.

 

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What I need you to know about therapy

What do therapists know that clients don’t? What do therapists want clients to know? What do therapists not tell clients? The answers could fill years of blogging even from one therapist, and fill many more posts if every therapist, counselor, pastor, life coach, and psychologist were asked! Right now I’m narrowing it down to one answer that I want you to know; from my dual viewpoint as a therapist and as a client.
Many therapists are also in therapy, and in my experience this is a very good thing. It helps me stay balanced, to know where my own worries and stresses are and to deal with them so they don’t come up in your session. It also means that I can sympathize with your point of view as a client.
As both a counselor and a client, my answer to ‘what do I want you to know?’ is ‘You won’t always feel as connected in some sessions as you do in others. Your therapist won’t always feel as connected, either. And therapy is still happening.’ If you have a good connection to your therapist, therapy is still happening even if you don’t feel as connected, even if you feel like you didn’t say much, even if.
I did put in the caveat ‘if you have a good connection to your therapist’. Therapy is a relationship. It’s a very specific relationship. This is why therapists can’t do therapy with their family or close friends. It’s why therapists are forbidden from having sexual activity with clients, and from doing therapy with anyone they ever had a sexual or romantic relationship with. The therapeutic relationship has to be itself, not a part of another relationship. It’s okay if you see your therapist in the grocery store. It’s often okay if you go to the same church or belong to the same organization. In fact, many people want a therapist who has the same beliefs, or who has gone through the same things. In my practice, my business cards read ‘Flying Free Healing Arts – Alikina (Allie) Iubhar – Therapy with someone who’s been there’. Because I am a survivor of abuse, and many survivors want to know that their therapist really ‘gets it’.
Even so, therapy is a specific relationship. And like any relationship, it needs to be healthy. When you feel a sense of connection, feel like your therapist cares, that you matter, that’s the start of a good therapeutic relationship. When you can say whatever you need to, when you therapist isn’t upset or confused, but understands most of what you’re saying and listens when you explain the rest, that’s the next part. When you can feel all your emotions (yep – even anger & fear & grief) with your therapist and know you’re understood, and that you and your emotions are okay with your therapist, you and you therapist have built the foundation that therapy comes from.
Even when your therapist understands, and when you can talk about whatever you need to, and when your therapist will ask insightful questions and explain things and suggest directions for you to consider, even when you have a very good therapeutic relationship; yes, you can have a day where you just don’t feel as connected. If you have a lot of those days, it might mean that you’re having some problems with your therapist. It for sure means you need to talk to them, and to say what you’re feeling, and what you need. But now and again, if you don’t feel like your therapist is as close today, or that they don’t seem to understand… that’s okay.
Therapists, counselors, when you feel like you aren’t as in tune with your client that one time… that’s okay. Again, if it’s happening a lot you need to address it. First, that’s why you have your own therapist. You can and should talk to your therapist about it. A lot of us have ‘supervision’, where we talk to someone with more experience, or we get together with a few colleagues, and we talk about things that concern us. And if it’s happening a lot with one specific client, a therapist should address it with that client. But every now and then feeling not as connected is a part of therapy.
(A note to clients: If your therapist talks to their own therapist about you, your confidentiality is still safe. For one thing, any therapist your own therapist talks to has to keep everything confidential. For another thing, unless you’re being treated by several therapists, like in a hospital or intensive program, therapists don’t usually name names. When I talk to my therapist about my own experiences, I say things like ‘my Wednesday afternoon client’ or ‘my newest client’. I’m talking about a worry or feeling I’m having, not giving out details about you.)
Back to talking about connection: That’s right – feeling less connected sometimes is a part of the relationship. It’s a part of therapy, and not only is it okay, I think it’s good. Up above, where I talked about it being important to be able to have all kinds of emotions and feelings with your therapist? Feeling less, saying less, having less connection is one way of having a feeling. If it’s okay to feel more in therapy; to say things you don’t say to anyone else, or to bring out all the upset, uncomfortable, extreme thoughts and feelings for therapy, then it’s also okay to have the opposite.
Feeling less connection is a level of feeling. It’s not a very comfortable level for a lot of people. Most people need connection. We’re social creatures. Therapists are in a profession where we work with a lot of feelings. We might feel even less comfortable with a lack of connection. All of us – clients, therapists, people who aren’t in therapy – need our relationships, our groups, our connections. But it’s still okay to be connected enough to someone to not have to feel as much just then. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, to be connected enough that you can feel less connected. But it’s a level of feeling. It’s okay to feel less connected for that session.
So that’s what I, as a therapist and as a client, want you to know today. I want you to know that it’s okay to have different levels of connection. For clients, less connection once in a while means your therapist still cares, they’re still paying attention to you, you matter just as much. Therapists, just reverse that. You still care, your client still matters, and you can feel different levels of connection and know you haven’t done anything to damage the therapeutic relationship. Not only is therapy still going on, but I think it’s an important part of therapy. I think it’s the level of connection where we can feel differently, and know that the therapist will still be there. If we, as clients, can feel less connected sometimes and know our therapists are still there, we’ve traveled another few steps on a path of trust and communication. That’s a pretty good thing.

 

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